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The number of positive coronavirus tests reported across San Diego County jumped back above 300 late last week, but quickly settled down, falling below 250 for the past four days, according to the latest weekly COVID-19 report from the county health department.

It was a slight blip that followed a few weeks after the amount of viral material detected in local wastewater increased, providing further evidence that positive test results are no longer the earliest signal of increased community spread. Because San Diego’s wastewater data has not been updated since April 6, it was unclear Wednesday evening whether or not the key number has started falling this week after holding essentially flat last week.

UC San Diego Health, though, has already made its own call regarding wastewater virus levels, moving back to the “green” level of its “new normal” plan which allows non-clinical workers — those working in offices and the like — to again go without masks if they wish. Those working in hospitals and other clinical settings such as doctors’ offices must continue wearing masks per state mandate.

A survey of local companies and government organizations Wednesday found that most appear to have mask-optional policies in place. Both Qualcomm Inc. and Sempra Energy said in statements that their employees are now undertaking “hybrid” schedules that allow both in-office and at home work. Both said masks are optional. San Diego County has not required mask wearing for its office workers since state guidance was updated on Feb. 28. Effective March 22, masks became recommended but not required on City of San Diego properties for workers and the public, though different rules apply to those who have been exposed to the virus.

The recent minor rise and fall of case totals begs an obvious question: Is this what an endemic coronavirus pattern will look like in San Diego this summer?

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Dr. Robert “Chip” Schooley, an infectious disease expert at UC San Diego, said that the arrival of the BA.2 subvariant makes the situation a little unpredictable, but added that he is watching places like New England, for a strong hint of what is likely in store. The northeastern parts of the U.S., he noted, are currently seeing larger numbers of BA.2 infections which makes sense given that spring weather has not warmed up there as much as it has here. Cold weather tends to keep people indoors more often, creating conditions where the virus can more easily spread.

“If things sort of die out in the Northeast, then I think we’re likely going to be relatively stable until we go back indoors in the fall,” Schooley said.

That’s because, he added, it will indicate that natural and vaccine-induced immunity was able to prevent a long-term surge.

“As the level of immunity has been built through vaccination and through experience with Omicron, a new virus trying to break through in the summer will have a tougher time than it did last summer and the summer before,” Schooley said.

That’s much less the case in places such as China, he added, because the nation’s “zero COVID” policy, combined with less effective vaccines, has created a population that does not have as much resistance to severe infection.

While at-home testing has made daily case totals reported to and by public health departments less complete than they were when more people were getting tested at centers, the number of hospitalizations occurring daily remains a strong signal of viral activity. Hospitalizations, Schooley noted, are closely tracked and quickly reported pretty much every time.

Here the data is quite good in San Diego County, with 115 total patients with confirmed and suspected COVID cases in hospitals across the region Tuesday. That number has now been under 200 for 24 straight days after surpassing 1,200 at the height of the Omicron surge in early January.

Some of the most painful costs of that surge are still appearing in public view.

On Wednesday, the county announced the death of a 15-year-old girl living in the region. The young woman, who was said to be unvaccinated, died on Feb. 3 with other contributing medical conditions present. No information was immediately available on why it took the county health department more than two months to notify the public of the death, which is the second under age 18 during the pandemic.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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