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It's back! Well, it never really left. COVID-19 is on the rise nationally, and in the Tri-Counties

Mufid Majnun

Cooler weather pushing people indoors. Holiday gatherings are considered to be key factors in the spike.

It’s not making the headlines it did three years ago. But, the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise again nationally, and here in the Tri-Counties.

"It is a combination of colder weather and the Thanksgiving holiday, and I expect we'll see more of a bump, or more of a continuation of this bump following Christmas and New Years, because there is going to be a tremendous amount of travel this year," said Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin.

He said in addition to the spike in COVID numbers, there’s another twist to the situation. There’s a new variant.

"The JN.1 is making its entrance," said Dr. Levin. "It's the child of the one we just experienced, BA.2.86. It is more transmissible, but it doesn't seem to cause a more serious illness.
Dr. Levin said it appears the latest COVID booster is effective against the variant. "What I'm hearing is that the booster is effective," said Dr. Levin.

But, in order for it to be effective you have to get it, and most Californians haven't done that. The latest state figures show just 10% of Californians are up to date on COVID boosters.

The state reports 9.1% of Ventura County residents are fully vaccinated. The percentage is 9.2% in Santa Barbara County, and 12.6% in San Luis Obispo County.

Dr. Levin said everyone should stay up to date on shots, but he says it’s especially important for certain high risk groups.

"The most critical group to be vaccinated are the very young, pregnant women between 32 and 36 weeks, and people over 60 who have other preexisting conditions that might make them more susceptible to a serious illness," said Dr. Levin.

The Ventura County Health official says while COVID is no longer making headlines, the fact is that people are still getting sick enough to end up in hospitals, and some with preexisting conditions are dying. It’s not as easy now to get accurate numbers on the extent of the surge, because of the decrease in widespread testing.

They rely on information like deaths, hospitalizations, and test results from doctor visits.

What about masks? You still see some people using them, especially those who are older. Dr. Levin said while being vaccinated is top on the list of things to do, masks are a good idea if you are around people who are frail, or if you are frail yourself.

He said people need to get used to the idea that a COVID booster should be an automatic thing, like a flu shot. In fact, he says while you should get RSV, flu, and COVID shots, the COVID shot is especially critical.

A series of new studies show when it comes to severe cases, COVID has a much higher mortality rate than influenza.

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.