Stay Informed, Stay Safe: County Launches Comprehensive Surveillance Tool for Respiratory Viruses
By Dolores Quintana
In the past week, respiratory virus metrics, including Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Covid-19, and influenza (flu), have exhibited a notable increase across Los Angeles County. Though the uptick is relatively modest, the indicators underscore the initiation of the winter virus season. Notably, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has introduced the Respwatch Surveillance Dashboard to provide weekly updates on flu, COVID-19, and RSV data, facilitating easy tracking for residents. The dashboard incorporates clinical laboratory surveillance, emergency department visits, and wastewater concentrations, offering comprehensive information in comparison to previous seasons.
The CDC Director, Mandy K. Cohen, MD, MPH, released a video update on December 6 that stated the CDC has seen that levels of Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are elevated, flu is continuing to increase nationwide, Covid is starting to increase again, and the CDC is seeing increases in cases of pneumonia. While she states that the organization has seen increases in respiratory illness in general, they have not yet tracked any new respiratory-based illnesses. Cohen advises that Americans should get their vaccinations, as it is not too late to receive them, especially the RSV vaccine for people over 60.
Additionally, Cohen advises that Americans should continue to observe the protocols that can help keep them safe from respiratory illnesses of any kind: handwashing, improving ventilation, staying home if they are sick, avoiding people who show obvious signs of illness, and wearing masks.
To ensure comparability, testing data on the dashboard relies on clinical laboratories participating in Public Health’s Sentinel Surveillance Network. This approach differs from COVID-only dashboards, which encompass countywide test positivity. Analyzing data from Sentinel Surveillance labs for the weeks ending Nov. 18 and Nov. 25 reveals incremental increases in RSV (13.4% to 15.1%), COVID-19 (7.4% to 8.9%), and flu (6.7% to 7.9%). Wastewater concentrations for all three viruses have experienced an uptick over the past five weeks, though still below last year’s levels.
Public Health emphasizes the seriousness of COVID-19 due to its potential for hospitalizations and fatalities, its evolving nature, and its enduring health impact. Therefore, Public Health continues to monitor specific COVID-19 metrics independently. The LA County COVID-19 Data dashboard, updated as of Nov. 30, consolidates key surveillance metrics into a single, accessible platform.
Amid the winter virus season, vaccination emerges as the primary defense against severe illness. The COVID-19 vaccine, now available throughout Los Angeles County, is free and recommended for all individuals six months and older. Notably, 860,000 doses of the new COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the county. The vaccine is recommended irrespective of previous vaccination status, emphasizing its importance.
For individuals aged 60 and above, consultation with healthcare providers for an RSV vaccine is advised. RSV vaccination is also recommended for pregnant individuals between 32 and 36 weeks and infants under eight months. COVID-19 home tests remain pivotal in curbing the virus’s spread this winter, with the federal government allocating four free tests per household.
Testing is strongly advised for those exposed to COVID-19, experiencing symptoms, or interacting with vulnerable individuals. Those testing negative for COVID-19 yet displaying respiratory symptoms are urged to wear masks indoors, considering the potential presence of flu or RSV. A follow-up COVID-19 test 48 hours later is recommended if symptoms persist.
Individuals testing negative for COVID-19 with ongoing respiratory symptoms may have flu or RSV and should remain at home to prevent further spread. Antiviral medications may be prescribed for flu infections, reducing severity and duration. Eligible individuals testing positive for COVID-19 can consider Paxlovid, available at no cost across Los Angeles County. The Public Health Call Center (1-833-540-0473) offers assistance on vaccination testing and Paxlovid, which is operational seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Based on data through Nov. 25, the CDC Hospital Admission Level for Los Angeles County is currently rated as Low, with 4.8 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.