There is an expected rise in COVID-19 cases as we move through fall into winter. President Biden’s administration has warned that the nation could see 100 million infections as more people gather indoors.
Locally, folks interested in County Public Health’s COVID-19 tracking system will notice a change in the details.
The department launched a new tool that they hope will keep people better informed about COVID-19. The data dashboard is at https://bit.ly/3TXHozV.
“Public Health’s new COVID-19 dashboard provides our community members with streamlined, relevant information that allows them to track and explore the latest trends,” Public Health Information Officer Tom Cuddy told Estero Bay News.”The dashboard also provides our community members with the right information to make informed decisions to protect themselves and their families.”
This is the first major re-design since the dashboard launched in March of 2020. It shifts the focus from individual laboratory-confirmed (PCR) case counts to wastewater, hospitalizations, deaths, variants, and vaccination trends. It also features easy access to CDC’s Community Levels tracker, which shows each county’s level as low, medium, or high, with corresponding recommendations for masking and other precautions.
The wastewater metric is new and is used for community-level infection trends over time. Cuddy says there are watershed sites City of Paso Robles, City of San Luis Obispo, and South County Sanitation District where monitoring of COVID-19 is conducted at regular intervals. Wastewater monitoring for disease presence is is relatively new to the county but has been used elsewhere for nearly 70 years.
“While wastewater cannot detect the number of people who are currently infected with COVID-19, it is an indicator of changes in community-level infection,” Cuddy said. “This means that wastewater testing can be used to detect general trends: whether the detectable amount of virus in a sampling zone is going up, going down, or staying about the same.”
Amongst many other things, wastewater monitoring is unbiased, non-invasive, inclusive, inexpensive, and provides insights into changes in community-level infection.”
Readers should know that positive home test results are not included in the data.
“Only PCR tests performed at Public Health Clinics and health care providers are used,” Cuddy said. “Regardless, testing is a powerful tool to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect others around you. It helps determine next steps to protect your health if you are infected, such as treatment. It can also provide peace of mind before a get-together with someone who is at higher risk for severe illness.”
The new dashboard relies on state and national data sources for big-picture trends but it also includes links to detailed COVID-19 dashboards for Atascadero State Hospital and California Men’s Colony.
Familiar data remains including hospitalizations and deaths, but there is also state vaccinated and unvaccinated data available along with information on what variants are circling around the area.
Gone are the case number totals by region, which, according to the website don’t provide meaningful data.
“As unreported home testing becomes the norm, individual case counts confirmed by laboratory-based PCR tests—the central element of many COVID-19 dashboards for much of the pandemic, including our local dashboard—are no longer the most meaningful data point for understanding COVID-19 in the community.”
The original dashboard will remain available as an archive. For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, visit slopublichealth.org/COVID19.
Cuddy says for readers who like to check the dashboard once each week. The largest amount of new recent data is on Friday mornings.
Vaccines and boosters are widely available at pharmacies and health care providers throughout San Luis Obispo County. Community members with questions are encouraged to contact the Public Health phone assistance center at 805-781-5500 Monday – Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In other COVID news, county children ages five to eleven can get updated vaccine protection via booster vaccines that specifically protect against current variants (often called “Omicron boosters”). The updated boosters have been available for those age 12 and older since early September.
“Like the flu shot, this booster teaches your body to protect you from the virus strains circulating right now,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, county health officer. “This added protection will help families stay healthy as we look ahead to holiday gatherings and seek to avoid a winter surge.” Two updated booster options are available for this age group: a Moderna booster for ages 6 and older, and a Pfizer booster for ages 5 and older. Like adults, children may get an updated booster two months after completing the primary series, or two months after receiving a previous booster dose. This updated booster replaces the original booster dose.