Cases (From the New York Times): After residents enjoyed weeks of relaxed masking and the return of large in-person events such as music festivals, Los Angeles County on Thursday moved from a “low” community transmission level to a “medium” level as defined by federal public health authorities.
The move, while not unexpected under the criteria set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was accompanied by ramped-up urging from public health officials to wear masks indoors and to heed calls to get vaccinated.
Pasadena, which operates its own public health department, the city’s sevenday weekly average of coronavirus case counts has increased more than 150%, rising from 18.4 on April 19, to 47.1 Thursday.
The average is significantly lower than that city’s January peak of more than 400 cases per week. However, city leaders remain concerned about Pasadena’s vulnerable populations.
The L.A. County coronavirus case rate has increased by 15% over the last week to 202 cases per 100,000 people, crossing the 200-mark threshold set by the CDC on one metric for moving the county into the medium level. The CDC measures three metrics every seven days and updates information on Thursdays.
The rise in case rates is an early warning sign that a strain on the health care system could be around the corner, according to data from the CDC’s website. The other two metrics for determining transmission levels are new COVID-19 hospital admissions and the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
L.A. County’s new hospital admissions rate is at 3.4 per 100,000 and its percent of staffed inpatient beds is 1.7, keeping those metrics in the “low” category.
The shift to medium does not add restrictions across the county, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said, but it does increase caution in sectors such as skilled nursing facilities, schools and large workplace facilities.
Over the last week, there were concerning coronavirus increases in nursing homes where outbreaks doubled from 7 to 14; at worksites, which increased sixfold; and classroom outbreaks increasing from 11 to 17, Ferrer said.
Classroom coronavirus outbreaks more than tripled from a month ago, said Ferrer, adding to the worry over end-of-year commencement celebrations.
Ferrer, in a news briefing Thursday, encouraged residents to use proven methods, such as masking and staying up-to-date on vaccinations and boosters to ensure L.A. County does not move to the high level of transmission.
Countywide, 4,725 new COVID-19 infections were reported Thursday. That brought the overall total from the start of the pandemic to 2,926,848. The county saw nine more virus- related deaths, bringing the cumulative death toll to 32,064.
Thursday, 379 COVID19-positive patients were in county hospitals. That was an increased from 363 Wednesday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 53, down from 55 a day earlier.
In California, five of 58 counties are in the “medium” level: L.A., Humboldt, Sonoma, Santa Clara and Plumas.
L.A. County already has implemented the CDC’s recommendations for areas in the medium category — such as mask-wearing on public transit, wide availability of vaccinations and guidance for improving ventilation in indoor settings. Ferrer said she expected to extend the mask mandate on public transit, which expires in a few days.
The United States reached a previously unthinkable milestone: one million deaths from the coronavirus. The magnitude of loss is nearly impossible to grasp. More Americans have died from Covid-19 than in two decades of car crashes or on battlefields in all of the country’s wars combined. The U.S. toll is higher than that of any other country in the world.
But the virus did not claim lives evenly, or randomly. The New York Times analyzed 25 months of data on deaths during the pandemic and found that some groups were far more vulnerable than others.
Three-quarters of those who have died of Covid have been 65 or older — 1 percent of all people in this age group. And the pandemic has been especially deadly for the oldest. Covid has killed more than 3 percent of the entire U.S. population 85 and older.
Black and Hispanic people in every age group have died at higher rates than white people. Health experts said that the disparity stems in part because a disproportionate share of essential workers are people of color and because communities of color had lower vaccination rates in the first months of the rollout.
About 60 percent of all deaths at the beginning of the pandemic happened in the Northeast, as the virus tore through cities and suburbs on the Eastern Seaboard. New York City alone saw 20 percent of the nation’s deaths in the first wave, despite making up just 3 percent of the U.S. population.
But the South has experienced the highest overall death rates of any region. More than 378,000 people in the region have died, many of them younger. The South is home to some of the lowest vaccination rates. Epidemiologists also point to less stringent virus responses, like shorter lockdowns and loose masking restrictions.
More than 429,000 people have died of Covid since all adults in the United States became eligible for vaccination in April 2021.
A majority of them were unvaccinated, but as the virus has continued to spread, it has killed thousands of vaccinated people, too.
The shocking death toll is the result of many factors, including elected officials who downplayed the threat of the virus and resisted safety measures; a decentralized, overburdened health care system that struggled with testing, tracing and treatment; and lower vaccination and booster rates than in other rich countries.
What these failures left behind are families robbed of time with loved ones and millions of Americans who carry a grief that at times feels lonely, permanent and agonizingly removed from the country’s shared journey.
Masks: With COVID-19 case numbers steadily rising — enough to push Los Angeles County into the “medium” virus risk level — officials officially extended the mask-wearing requirement on public transit and at transportation hubs on Friday.
The county issued a health order late last month requiring masks on transit vehicles and at hubs such as airports and train stations. The requirement, however, was set to expire in a matter of days.
Instead, the county Department of Public Health announced Friday that the mandate was being extended for either another 30 days or until the county sees a sharp drop in virus transmission, whichever comes first.
Masks were previously required nationally on public transit and in transportation facilities, but a federal judge struck down the requirement last month. The county initially followed the ruling and the mandate was dropped locally, but when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opted to appeal the ruling, the county issued a new health order reinstating the requirement locally.
The requirement affects people on trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-hailing vehicles and at bus terminals, subway stations and indoor port terminals. It also affects airports, but does not extend to airplanes, which are under federal jurisdiction.
The extension of the transit-masking requirement comes one day after the county moved from the CDC’s “low” community virus activity category to “medium.” The shift came when the county’s cumulative weekly rate of new COVID- 19 cases exceeded 200 per 100,000 residents, reaching 202 per 100,000.
Long COVID: More than three-quarters of Americans diagnosed with long Covid were not sick enough to be hospitalized for their initial infection, a new analysis of tens of thousands of private insurance claims reported on Wednesday.
The researchers analyzed data from the first few months after doctors began using a special diagnostic code for the condition that was created last year. The results paint a sobering picture of long Covid’s serious and ongoing impact on people’s health and the American health care system.
Long Covid, a complex constellation of lingering or new post-infection symptoms that can last for months or longer, has become one of the most daunting legacies of the pandemic. Estimates of how many people may ultimately be affected have ranged from 10 percent to 30 percent of infected adults; a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that between 7.7 million and 23 million people in the United States could have developed long Covid. But much remains unclear about the prevalence, causes, treatment and consequences of the condition.
The new study adds to a growing body of evidence that, while patients who have been hospitalized are at greater risk for long Covid, people with mild or moderate initial coronavirus infections — who make up the vast majority of coronavirus patients — can still experience debilitating post-Covid symptoms including breathing problems, extreme fatigue and cognitive and memory issues.
The analysis, based on what the report calls the largest database of private health insurance claims in the United States, found 78,252 patients who were diagnosed with the new code from the International Classification of Diseases — diagnostic code U09.9 for “Post COVID-19 condition, unspecified” — between Oct. 1, 2021, and Jan. 31, 2022.
AND: Los Angeles County health officials said Friday they are closely monitoring developments in an international monkeypox outbreak, but no cases have been found locally.
Thus far, only one case has been confirmed domestically, in Massachusetts. But world health officials have grown increasingly concerned due to cases that have popped up in unusual locations, such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal.
Monkeypox is usually restricted to Central and West Africa. Cases in Europe and the United States are rare.
Monkeypox generally begins with flu-like symptoms but can lead to facial and body rashes.
The Economy: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, in his most hawkish remarks to date, said the U.S. central bank will keep raising interest rates until there is “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is in retreat.
The Fed chair repeatedly stressed the need to curb the hottest inflation in decades during the roughly 35-minute interview, calling price stability “the bedrock of the economy” and acknowledging that some pain in achieving this — including a slight rise in the unemployment rate — was a cost worth paying in order to achieve it.
Powell and his colleagues on the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise their benchmark rate by a half-percentage point at a policy meeting earlier this month, and the chair at the time suggested to reporters that hikes of similar magnitudes would be on the table at their next two meetings in June and July. He repeated that guidance Tuesday, while adding that near-term inflation developments would be a critical determinant of the size of coming moves.
Southern California’s housing market remains overheated, with home prices hitting all-time highs despite soaring inf lation and rising mortgage rates.
With price and mortgage hikes pushing many would-be buyers to the sidelines, sales are sagging. Yet, buyer demand continues to outpace the supply of homes for sale.
The median price of a Southern California home — or price at the midpoint of all sales — hit a recordhigh $760,000 in April, up $109,000, or 16.7%, from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic figures released today by data firm DQNews. That’s equivalent to a price hike of almost $2,100 every week for the past year.
Records were set in all six Southern California counties in the DQNews/ CoreLogic housing report, with median home prices ranging from $519,000 in San Bernardino County to $1.05 million in Orange County.
U.S. consumers are shifting their dollars from merchandise to services like travel, a worrying trend for retailers that benefited from the pandemic spending binge but a promising sign for snarled supply chains and inflation.
For months, economists have been expecting demand for merchandise to wane as COVID-19 fears subside and Americans spend on experiences such as vacations and entertainment. The expectation was that a decline in spending on goods would ameliorate supply-chain pressures and help to tamp down decades-high inflation.
That dynamic is finally starting to happen. And it’s having a dramatic effect on a stock market that’s gotten used to rock-solid earnings and margins from consumer stalwarts. The S& P 500 plunged more than 4% Wednesday, with a basket of consumer discretionary stocks headed for its lowest close in almost two years.
Earnings reports this week from retail giants Walmart and Target showed a slowdown in spending on general merchandise items that had buoyed profits the last two years. Target Chief Executive Officer Brian Cornell went so far as to say shoppers were stepping back from big-ticket items such as televisions to buy restaurant gift cards or luggage as the pandemic abates. The company’s stock fell 25% on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, airlines including United Airlines Holdings and Southwest Airlines expect strong sales in the coming months amid pent-up demand for summer travel.
From the perspective of federal policymakers, any slowdown in merchandise inflation is positive, since that’s the component that’s led to the fastest year-overyear inflation since the 1980s. Inflation for services, while rising more recently, has largely maintained its pace from previous years. Lower demand for goods would also alleviate pressure in the shipping and labor markets.
Stock Market: Wall Street rumbled to the edge of a bear market Friday after another drop for stocks briefly sent the S& P 500 more than 20% below its peak set early this year. The S& P 500 index, which sits at the heart of most workers’ 401(k) accounts, was down as much as 2.3% for the day before a furious comeback in the final hour of trading sent it to a tiny gain of less than 0.1%. It finished 18.7% below its record, set on Jan. 3. The tumultuous trading capped a seventh straight losing week, its longest such streak since the dot-com bubble was deflating in 2001.
The S& P 500 finished the day up 0.57 points at 3,901.36. The Dow Jones Industrial Average swung from an early loss of 617 points to close 8.77 higher, or less than 0.1%, at 31,261.90. The Nasdaq composite trimmed a big loss to finish 33.88 points lower, or 0.3%, at 11,354.62.
Because the S& P 500 did not finish the day more than 20% below its record, the company in charge of the index says a bear market has not officially begun. Of course, the 20% threshold is an arbitrary number.
Many big tech stocks, seen as some of the most vulnerable to rising interest rates, have already fallen much more than 20% this year. That includes a 37.2% tumble for Tesla and a 69.1% nosedive for Netflix.
It’s a sharp turnaround from the powerful run Wall Street enjoyed after emerging from its last bear market in early 2020, at the start of the pandemic. Through it, the S& P 500 more than doubled.
With inflation at its highest level in four decades, the Fed has aggressively turned away from keeping interest rates super-low in order to support markets and the economy. Instead it’s raising rates and making other moves in hopes of slowing the economy enough to tamp down inflation. The worry is if it goes too far or too quickly.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which helps set mortgage rates, fell to 2.78% from 2.85% late Thursday. Goldman Sachs economists recently put the probabilty of a U.S. recession in the next two years at 35%.