Kamala Harris testing positive for coronavirus underscores rising cases in California

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in San Francisco
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in San Francisco on Thursday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The announcement that Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for coronavirus after visiting the Golden State last week underscores the sensitive place California and the rest of the U.S. are in.

The announcement that Vice President Kamala Harris has tested positive for the coronavirus underscores the sensitive place Californians and the rest of the nation find themselves in more than two years into the pandemic.

Following the winter Omicron surge that sent cases soaring to record-shattering levels, the daily tally of new infections fell steadily for months — prompting California health officials to lift many restrictions and masking requirements.

But public health officials and experts have warned that California is not yet entirely out of the danger zone. Cases have been slowly rising in recent weeks due to the proliferation of even-more-infectious Omicron subvariants, namely BA.2.

Harris, 57, was in California last week and has not had any recent contact with President Joe Biden and most of the White House staff. She has been vaccinated and boosted twice and, according to her office, is not experiencing any symptoms.

During her time in the state, the vice president delivered a speech at Vandenberg Space Force Base and attended events in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s unclear precisely when, or where, she might have been infected.

Her visit came at a time when California — like the nation as a whole — is experiencing a gradual uptick in new coronavirus cases.

In its most recent update, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency reported 255 new known coronavirus infections this week, up to 894. The agency also reported one new COVID death, bringing the county’s pandemic total to 261.

Over the weeklong period ending Monday, Los Angeles County reported an average of 1,553 new coronavirus cases a day, double the rate seen at the start of the month.

The county’s case rate rose above 100 cases a day for every 100,000 residents on Saturday, returning the county to a high rate of coronavirus transmission — as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — for the first time since early March.

The increase is relatively modest, however. Experts say it isn’t clear whether the nation is headed toward a second Omicron surge that would challenge hospitals and dramatically worsen the daily COVID-19 death rate, as has happened to Britain, or if the U.S. could be spared a bad spring, as Spain has managed to.

Despite what’s proved to be a sustained uptick in cases in recent weeks, California has yet to see consistent corresponding bumps in the number of people being hospitalized with COVID-19 — a departure from the pandemic’s earlier waves.

Statewide, 950 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized as of Monday, a figure that remains among the lowest single-day censuses of the entire pandemic.

On Friday, the number of coronavirus-positive patients in Los Angeles County fell to 209 — the lowest single-day total on record, state data show. However, the count has crept up since then, to 232.

“As the more infectious BA.2 dominates and contributes to the increase in cases in L.A. County, residents are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated and boosted if they are not up to date on their vaccinations,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Monday. “Those who were recently infected with Omicron should consider getting vaccinated or boosted three months after their COVID infection since natural immunity is likely to have waned. With recurring reports of new variants of concern, including sub-lineages of BA.2, we are relieved that the current approved vaccines protect the vaccinated person and those around the vaccinated individual from severe illness.”

Given current conditions, L.A. County has opted to maintain a universal mask mandate at airports and other indoor public transit settings — ever after a federal judge in Florida voided a similar nationwide requirement early last week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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