New COVID-19 Variant Sends Cases Climbing As School Year Begins

The concentration of SARS-CoV-2​ detected in the county's wastewater has doubled since July 19. Image via Patch

Cases have been climbing for weeks fueled by the now dominant EG.5 variant. Here's what parents should know about COVID and the school year.


) — A new coronavirus subvariant is now dominant in California, sending new cases climbing as half a million students prepare for the new school year in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Compared to the annual winter surge, COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles and across the state remain low. However, cases have been climbing for four weeks fueled by the EG.5 variant, which now makes up a dominant 16.2 percent of cases across the West, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Los Angeles County, the transmission rate remains low — wastewater samples show a SARS-CoV-2 concentration rate at just 19 percent of the totals during last winter's surge, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Still, the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 detected in the county's wastewater has doubled since July 19. That mirrors a small spike in the number of cases reported in the county, averaging 333 new cases per day compared to 202 cases per day in mid-July.

Similarly, California Walgreens stores confirmed a sharp uptick in positive COVID-19 test results with a positivity rate of 48.3 percent, the highest it's been since January, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The uptick comes just a day before Los Angeles County rescinds an order requiring employees in healthcare facilities to wear masks when providing care or when in patient care areas. Healthcare workers will still be urged to wear masks while providing care to vulnerable patients and to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 strains currently circulating descend from Omicron XBB, and county health officials expect that current protections will remain effective to prevent severe illness or death.

As students head back to the classroom next week, county healthy officials urged coronavirus testing to reduce the risk of outbreaks.

"Even when rates of COVID-19 are low, the back-to-school season can bring greater risk of COVID-19 spread," health officials warned in a written statement. "Last August and September, TK-12 schools reported more than 1,100 COVID-19 clusters, groups of potentially connected cases, over an eight-week period. To help reduce transmission among students and staff, Public Health is working with schools to distribute COVID-19 tests and...encourages staff and students, especially those with recent exposures, travel or any symptoms, to take an at-home antigen test the night before or the morning they return to school."

The county health department is offering guidance for navigating the new school year as the pandemic nears its fourth full year:

If a student tests positive for COVID-19 and was at school two days prior to a positive test or the start of COVID symptoms, parents should immediately inform school officials.
Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 must stay home and isolate regardless of symptoms and vaccination status.

While those infected with COVID are required to isolate for a minimum of five days, it is not necessary to stay home away from others after an exposure to COVID unless you have symptoms and/or test positive after an exposure.

Individuals who have been exposed should test as soon as possible after an exposure and again three to five days after exposure.

Masking for 10 days after an exposure when indoors around others remains a best practice.
Those who develop symptoms and test negative should repeat the test after 48 hours and remain away from others while symptomatic.

Children who are sick should not attend school.