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California enjoying 'good COVID weather' now. But winter may bring unpleasant surprises

Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — California is entering the fall with coronavirus in retreat.

Cases have fallen significantly from the height of the omicron wave this spring and summer, and that has allowed government officials to ease both mask rules and recommendations.

But health experts are warning these conditions could change as the weather cools, people head indoors and new variants and subvariants potentially emerge. As the state heads deeper into fall and winter — seasons that previously saw the arrival of the two worst COVID-19 waves to date — officials in Los Angeles County say they can’t rule out the return of mask orders if conditions significantly deteriorate.

Though the situation is much improved from earlier in the year, there are early signs the coronavirus is once again on the upswing in Europe, a development that has previously foreshadowed increases stateside. In England, coronavirus cases over the most recent week are up 13% from the prior week, and hospitalizations are up 17%. Belgium and Denmark have also seen their figures rise, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UC San Francisco infectious-disease expert.

“Enjoy the good ‘COVID weather,’” Chin-Hong said. But “realize that we have to have flexibility.”

Experts are also keeping a wary eye on a number of emerging omicron subvariants that laboratory studies suggest could still infect people who have been vaccinated or previously infected, and possibly render ineffective some anti-COVID treatments known as monoclonal antibodies.


And locally, observed coronavirus levels are no longer decreasing in L.A. County’s wastewater, indicating that there’s still significant transmission.

Officials regularly note that, thanks to high levels of vaccine coverage and the availability of therapeutics, California could be well positioned to handle a potential coronavirus rebound this year. Aiding that effort is the rollout of updated booster shots specially formulated to target BA.5 — still by far the most common version of the coronavirus in circulation.

But COVID-19 has regularly surprised and scoffed at prognostication. And given California’s previous winter experience, some officials and experts say it would be foolish to rule out a need to mask up in the coming months. Never in modern times has the world dealt with a global pandemic caused by a coronavirus, and it will probably take some time before a predictable pattern emerges.

“When we see things are getting out of hand, we need to go back to the strategies that worked before we had our vaccinations and boosters,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “If our vaccinations don’t work, because we have a new variant or the new variant evades a lot of protections, you’re going to want to put your mask back on, because that’s going to give you the protection you’re going to need to stay safe.”


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