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It's back! (Well, it never really left) COVID-19 numbers rising in the Tri-Counties

Lance Orozco
Someone getting a COVID-19 vaccination in Oxnard

COVID numbers not expected to spike like they did in past years, but leading health expert in the region says getting a booster is a good idea.

It’s not making big news, like it did two years ago. But, COVID-19 numbers are on the rise around the country, and here in the Tri-Counties.

"We have not seen as much reporting because of home testing, but we have seen an increase...a the number of PCR tests that have been reported recently," said Dr. Robert Levin, who is Ventura County’s Public Health Officer.

He said they've seen up to three COVID related deaths a week in the county during the last few weeks.

Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties are also reporting increases in cases. State figures show Santa Barbara County had 15 new COVID related hospitalizations in the last week, and a 19% positivity rate from testing. San Luis Obispo County had 12 new hospitalizations, with a 14% positivity rate.

Health officials are keeping a close eye on the latest COVID variant, which hasn’t made to us yet.

"We haven't seen it (BA.2.86). It's been found in Ohio, and is pretty much isolated there so far, but it is inevitable that we'll see it," said Dr. Levin.

"It has people concerned, but we haven't seen enough of it yet to tell what kind of creature it is." He said it appears to be easily shared, but also said that so far there is no evidence that it's more deadly or dangerous than other variants.

It’s expected the latest booster will be available in the next month. The Ventura County Public Health official says we should all get it, especially older adults who are at higher risk.

Dr. Levin says it’s also a good time to get your annual flu shot, and if you are older, an RSV shot which helps prevent respiratory problems.

Dr. Levin says that one of the reasons for the current spike may be the same things we see in fall, and winter. The hot weather also forces people indoors. Other factors may be the start of school, as well as increased travel.

What does he expect for the fall and winter, when we have traditionally seen spikes?

"The question is a crystal ball question," said Dr. Levin. "Looking at the winter peaks we've had for the past seasons, each peak has gotten lower for hospitalizations, and I am hopeful that trend will continue."

The health official says masks are still a reasonable way to help protect yourself if you are in higher risk for exposure situations, like attending an indoor show or traveling on a plane.

Dr. Levin thinks that we could someday see a COVID vaccine folded into annual flu shots.
But, he also thinks that several years down the road, the virus may get to the point where the threat lessens to that of a common cold.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.