The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been killing Angelenos at a higher rate than the flu and car crashes in early 2022, county health officials say.
An analysis of death certificates from January through April found there were 31.8 deaths from COVID-19 per 100,000 people of all ages in Los Angeles County. That’s nine times the comparable rate of motor vehicle-related deaths and more than five times that of influenza and pneumonia during the same period, said Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer.
During this period, there were 3.5 deaths from motor vehicle accidents per 100,000 population and 5.9 deaths from influenza and pneumonia per 100,000 population.
Much has been said about Omicron causing milder illnesses than previous variants – although it’s also likely that higher vaccination rates, anti-COVID-19 drugs and increased immunity to past infections have all played a role. a role in mitigating the severity of the last fall and winter surge.
While this is true, COVID-19 continues to have deadly consequences. More than 4,800 COVID-associated deaths have been recorded this year in the nation’s most populous county – 25% among residents under the age of 65.
Recent age-specific death rate data underscores the still potent power of Omicron. Between May and July, the death rate for LA County residents aged 80 and older was three times higher than those same months in 2021. For adults 65 to 79, the death rate was 1½ times higher than that of the previous year. In contrast, mortality rates have declined among young adults.
“For some people in the community, over time their risk of COVID has actually not been reduced despite the fact that we have great tools that overall have led to a dramatic drop in the rates of COVID-19. mortality,” Ferrer said. during a recent briefing.
There are a few possible explanations. Coronavirus transmission was much more widespread and sustained in the middle of this year compared to last year, given the ultra-contagious nature of Omicron. A higher number of infections means an increased chance of someone becoming seriously ill.
The timing isn’t a perfect comparison either, as May to July this year spans the height of Omicron’s second wave, while last year’s Delta surge hit a bit later. during the summer.
It’s also possible that some older residents this year have been even further away from their last dose of vaccine – an important factor as protection wanes over time. Also, the Omicron variant is more likely to cause breakthrough infections in vaccinated people compared to earlier strains.
But even among middle-aged adults, there was a higher death rate for COVID-19 earlier this year than for car crashes.
Among adults ages 50 to 64, the death rate for COVID-19 was eight times the rate of motor vehicle accidents and 12 times the rate of influenza and pneumonia, according to the county’s analysis.
And among people in their 30s and 40s, the death rate from COVID-19 was more than 1.5 times that of road accidents and 21 times that of influenza and pneumonia.
For the youngest adults – aged 18 to 29 – the death rate from COVID-19 was higher than that of the flu and pneumonia, but only about a fifth that of road accidents.
Another analysis found that in the first year of the pandemic, COVID-19 robbed the most years of human life from premature death compared to other leading causes.
LA County researchers defined premature death as death occurring before age 75. By that metric, COVID-19 was responsible for nearly 79,000 years of potential life lost countywide in 2020 — nearly as many as the combined total of liver disease, diabetes, stroke and lung cancer.
The causes of premature death have also increased for other reasons. Potential years of life lost due to drug overdose jumped 65% between 2019 and 2020, according to Ferrer. In fact, most leading causes of death in 2020 increased from 2019.
While COVID-19 was undoubtedly deadly in the first year of the pandemic, disruptions at work, school, obtaining health care and social life have most likely also had a detrimental effect on general well-being, Ferrer said. COVID-19 vaccines were not widely available until 2021.
“The sobering data on COVID-19 mortality and premature deaths from COVID helps us understand why it remains important to continue to take measures that limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect those most vulnerable. vulnerable to serious illness and death,” she said.
LA County is not alone in experiencing such impacts from the coronavirus. CDC data presented last week showed that since April, hospitalization rates for COVID-19 among older adults have risen much more dramatically compared to younger people.
And although vaccinations have helped significantly improve mortality from COVID-19, older people who have completed their series of primary vaccinations can still become seriously ill and die, Ferrer said. Besides not getting vaccinated or keeping up to date with booster shots, factors that can affect risk of death include underlying health conditions and repeated coronavirus infections.
According to a recent report published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overall life expectancy in the United States has decreased by an average of 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020, “primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 and the increase in unintentional injuries,” such as drug overdoses.
In the United States, life expectancy has fallen from 78.8 to 77 years. California’s fell 1.9 years, from 80.9 to 79.
New York saw the worst drop in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020, falling three years from 80.7 to 77.7. The District of Columbia experienced a reduction in life expectancy of 2.7 years; Louisiana and New Jersey, 2.6 years; and Arizona and Mississippi, 2.5 years.
The five states that have seen the least reduction in life expectancy are Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Washington and Oregon. These states each recorded less than a year of reduction in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020.
Of the 50 states in 2020, Hawaii had the highest life expectancy, at 80.7 years, and California the fourth. Mississippi had the lowest, at 71.9.
On August 31, health officials released preliminary estimates of life expectancy for 2021. Officials said U.S. life expectancy for 2021 was down an additional 0.9 years from 2020, falling to 76.1 – the lowest on record since 1996. State-level estimates were not available for 2021.
Among races and ethnic groups, Native Americans have seen the largest drop in life expectancy, dropping 6.6 years from 71.8 in 2019 to 65.2 in 2021. That’s “the same life expectancy than the total population of the United States in 1944,” the report said.
Life expectancy for Latino residents decreased by 4.2 years, from 81.9 to 77.7. Life expectancy for black residents fell by four years, from 74.8 to 70.8. Life expectancy for white residents decreased by 2.4 years, from 78.8 to 76.4. And life expectancy for Asian Americans fell 2.1 years, from 85.6 to 83.5.
The reports define life expectancy as a hypothetical cohort that would be subject throughout its life to the age-specific mortality rates prevailing for the population in the year being analyzed. The number reflects “a snapshot of current mortality experience and shows the long-term implications of a set of age-specific death rates that have prevailed in a given year,” the report said.
LA County’s weekly COVID-19 death count is down but still high. For the seven-day period that ended Thursday, the region recorded 78 deaths, well above the spring low of 24 deaths recorded from May 4 to May 10. The summer peak was 122 deaths in one week, recorded between July 31 and August 6. .
LA County reported about 1,800 daily coronavirus cases for the seven-day period ending Thursday, down 30% week-over-week and down 74% from the near summer peak. of 6,900 cases per day.
The latest case and death rates may be somewhat artificially depressed due to a lag in reporting during the Labor Day holiday.
With declining case and hospitalization rates, LA County last week fell into the low COVID-19 community level defined by the CDC. The last time LA County was at this level — which “reflects minimal stress on the hospital care system,” Ferrer said — was in early May.
Other Southern California counties that slipped into low COVID-19 community level last week were San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara. Riverside County entered the low COVID-19 community level on August 25. Orange County entered COVID-19 Community Low Thursday; San Bernardino County remains in the middle, where it has been for weeks.
As of Thursday, there were just four California counties at the high community level of COVID-19 — Kern, Merced, Madera and Kings — representing less than 4% of the state’s population.
Still, the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus remains high across much of California. As of Thursday, per capita, LA County was reporting 126 coronavirus cases per week per 100,000 residents. A score of 100 or more is considered high.
During a briefing at a vaccination center at the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino on Thursday, Ferrer urged the public to get his updated bivalent booster shots, designed not only against the original coronavirus, but also against the sub – Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants which are dominant nationwide.
“The vaccines are there,” Ferrer said. “By obtaining this bivalent booster, all eligible individuals will be able to experience significantly increased protection against current strains of the virus, providing increased protection against serious illness and even infection in the first place.”
Ferrer added, “With this new bivalent vaccine, we could reduce our chances of a third huge winter surge of COVID since we have a pretty good match with what’s been circulating.”
Officials continue to recommend that residents take certain precautions when gathering – including testing before events, meeting outdoors if possible, maximizing ventilation by opening windows and using indoor air filters. indoors, and wearing a mask indoors when around people with unknown coronavirus status.
“We still have a highly transmissible variant that is able to re-infect people who have already been infected. It makes sense to stay on the safe side and take a few simple steps to just reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting COVID to anyone,” Ferrer said.