COVID-19 update: New infection cases plateau in Tulare County, coronavirus-related deaths decline

Omicron-variant fueled COVID-19 infections slowed last week, bringing strong evidence the county may be turning the corner on the pandemic.

There were 2,006 new infections, according to data released Wednesday by the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency.

For the week ending Feb. 8, Tulare County saw 2,591 new weekly infections from more than 8,000 new infections a week in mid-January. The county saw a record of just more than 22,000 new infections in January. The previous monthly high for new COVID-19 infections was 12,111 in January 2021.

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While the drop in new infections seems to have plateaued, new coronavirus-related deaths dropped from the previous week. The county recorded 11 new deaths ending the week of Feb. 15. The previous week, 25 people died from COVID-19 related causes.

The county's new case rate decreased to 55 daily infections per 100,000 people from just over 200 in late January. Testing positivity rates fell to 14% from 32% in late January.

As of Tuesday, Kaweah Health treated 88 COVID-19 patients, 14 in the ICU. Countywide, 121 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. In January 2021, Kaweah Health had a record 169 COVID-19 patients.

Across California, the average positive rate in coronavirus testing in California has dropped to 5.7%, the lowest it has been since mid-December. That was shortly before the fast-spreading omicron variant ignited the winter COVID-19 surge.

The shift marks a 3.2% decrease from the prior seven-day positivity rate, which indicates the percentage of total tests that come back positive each day statewide. Most Bay Area counties appear to be following a similar trajectory though the rate of coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths, lagging pandemic indicators, appear to have leveled off in the region. California’s average positive test rate hit a pandemic high of 22.6% on Jan. 9. It bottomed out at 0.07% in the first week of June, before the delta variant surge.

What's next? Community forum focuses on future of pandemic in Tulare County

Nationally, President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response team on Wednesday touted declining cases, increasing vaccination rates, and the development of therapeutics to lessen severe outcomes with COVID-19.

Officials are already looking ahead to the next phase of the pandemic, coordinator Jeff Zients said during a Wednesday briefing.

“As a result of all this progress and the tools we all have, we’re moving toward a time when COVID isn’t a crisis but is something we can protect against and treat,” he said. “The president and our COVID team are actively planning for this future.”

As many states move to ease indoor mask mandates for vaccinated people, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday they planned to update the agency’s federal recommendations as well.

“We are looking at all of our guidance based not only on where we are right now in the pandemic but also on the tools we now have at our disposal — such as vaccines, boosters, tests and treatments — and our latest understanding of the disease,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at a White House briefing. “We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen.”

Even with metrics falling nationwide, the number of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States will reach about 968,000 by March 12 and could top 1 million by the end of the month, according to forecast models used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ensemble model, which was updated on Wednesday, shows deaths likely increasing in at least 10 states over the next two weeks compared to the previous two weeks. California’s cumulative pandemic death toll may hit 90,000 over the same period.

Since the pandemic started in March 2020, 99,292 Tulare County residents have been infected with COVID-19, and 1,279 people have died from complications of the virus.

Wire reports contributed to this story.

James Ward is a journalist for the USA TODAY Network.

This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: COVID-19 in Tulare County: New infection cases plateau, deaths decline