Though its infection rate continues to fall, Ventura County stands as 1 of only 7 California counties still pinned in the highest-risk tier for COVID-19 in a weekly ranking by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rating assesses risks through calculations of transmission levels and impact on area hospitals. Ventura County jumped into the highest of three tiers in late June and remains there as many others, including neighboring counties Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, have moved down a notch to the middle tier.
The “high” or red tier rating carries with it the continued CDC recommendations that people wear masks indoors in public places. The CDC also advises people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness because of age or medical condition consider avoiding crowded indoor activities when possible.
Dr. Robert Levin, the county’s health officer, said he didn’t think the “high” rating is deserved and downplayed its significance.
“I don’t think about this ranking system at all,” Levin said. But he said COVID-19 is still being spread and encouraged people to wear masks in crowds indoors, also pushing employers to provide good ventilation in offices.
“COVID is still with us. Whether we’re low, medium or high, we need to accept that and adapt to it,” he said.
The “high” rating reflects local COVID-19 hospitalization rates that have remained level over recent weeks even as the county’s case rate has fallen. Federal data posted Thursday showed a weekly total of 12.1 new admissions per 100,000 population in the county. The rate would have to fall below 10 for the county to move into the “medium” ranking though that bar could change if the case rate continues to drop.
As of Friday, 67 people with COVID were being treated in hospitals across the county –almost exactly the same tally as four weeks earlier. Doctors noted the volumes are low compared to the peak of the omicron surge in January when more than 300 COVID patients needed hospital care, sending hospitals scrambling to find enough nurses.
They said current levels are manageable.
“Certainly, our hospitals are not feeling overwhelmed,” said Dr. Todd Flosi, chief medical officer for Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital.
Hospitals still sometimes scramble to find staff, but the shortages are driven not by the number of patients but by employees who contract the virus and have to stay home, Flosi said.
Worker absences at St. John’s hospitals in Oxnard and Camarillo have increased because of the rising contagiousness of new COVID-19 variants, said spokeswoman Christina Zicklin.
“We have navigated these waters before and are prepared,” she said.
Levin said the hospitalization rates mean local doctors likely admit COVID-19 patients who might be sent home by some hospitals in other regions. He praised the practice.
“I think we’re admitting COVID patients appropriately in our county,” he said. “Patients for any disease should be admitted when the emergency room doctor is uncomfortable sending them home.”
Dr. George Yu, a Camarillo pulmonologist, said he thinks admissions might fall if more people who test positive ask their physicians about antiviral medications like Paxlovid, designed to reduce the chances of severe disease. He contended the level of COVID-19 in the county justifies placement in the high-risk tier in the CDC ranking.
California Department of Public Health data posted Friday showed a daily average of 22.6 cases per 100,000 county residents, compared to 36.8 cases a day four weeks earlier. The rate doesn’t include home tests. Yu said transmission risks are still elevated.
“I’m still getting calls all of the time,” he said. “This is not going away.”
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