How to Think About Rising Covid Cases in California


The state’s Covid-19 positivity rate is the highest it’s been since January, but experts say that isn’t necessarily cause for alarm.

A Covid-19 vaccine shot being prepared for administration in Los Angeles last year.
Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

If you’re anything like me, Covid-19 hasn’t been on your mind much lately.

It’s been several months since I last wrote about it in this newsletter, and almost as long since I gave it serious consideration. And that’s for good reason.

While Covid has never stopped infecting people in California, by now most of us have several layers of immunity against the virus through vaccines, past infections or both, so the risk of serious illness is not as high as it once was. The rate of spread has been relatively low this year, and Covid hospitalizations in California were lower last month than at any time since the pandemic took hold.

There are some signs, however, that this rosy picture may soon change. New Covid cases have been rising this month in California and across the country. While experts say the trend isn’t a cause for alarm, they do agree it’s something to monitor if you’re hoping to avoid infection.

“We had sort of a nadir this past summer, and it stopped dropping and started to increase a bit,” Erica Pan, the state epidemiologist, said last week in a briefing with health care workers. “I’m sure many of you are anecdotally both hearing about friends and family and colleagues, as well as seeing more or hearing more about some more circulating Covid.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, two big Covid surges have occurred each year, one in the summer and a larger one in the winter. For the fourth year in a row, cases began to pick up nationally in late July, though they remain relatively low, with hospitalizations increasing only slightly and deaths remaining flat.

We’re still figuring out whether this is a new normal. As my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reported, how this rise in cases plays out may offer “the first glimpse of the coronavirus as a post-pandemic seasonal threat, a permanent fixture of the infectious disease landscape.”

In California, the number of people hospitalized with Covid has been ticking up for a few weeks, and the test positivity rate has inched up to its highest level since January, according to state data. The amount of coronavirus present in the state’s wastewater has also been increasing, according to Pan. (It’s difficult to compare current case numbers with those from earlier in the pandemic because these days, more people test at home and don’t report their results. There’s also less Covid screening done in hospitals.)

A new variant, EG.5, has just become dominant across the country, including in California. Experts believe the recent increase in cases is connected less to the emergence of EG.5 than to summer travel, waning immunity and the fact that people are generally taking fewer precautions.

Robert Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said he wouldn’t call the current rise in coronavirus cases a surge, but more of an uptick. And, he noted, it began from a very low level.

As for how to behave in response to this trend, that’s a tricky question. Many experts still recommend wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, but they know that not everyone will want to do so.

If you’re at high risk for serious illness, you might want to mask up at the grocery store and avoid eating indoors at restaurants. Other people might just want to wear a mask at the airport, to avoid getting sick during that big summer vacation.

Or maybe the appeal of not thinking about Covid is too powerful to make you take precautions this time around.

“It definitely is riskier than it was a few months ago,” Wachter told KCRW in Los Angeles. “But it’s not night and day. There’s a little bit more Covid in the air than there was a few weeks ago, and if people are inclined to change their behavior based on that, now is the time to begin thinking about that.”

For more:

  • A refresher on how to protect yourself from Covid-19.

  • Which vaccines should you get in the fall?

  • Track Covid in California.

Along the Lahaina shoreline on Maui.Philip Cheung for The New York Times
  • The Hawaii wildfire is officially the deadliest wildfire in modern U.S. history. Here are some other notable wildfires, including many in California.

  • A pack of gray wolves, an endangered species, has shown up in the Sierra Nevadas, several hundred miles away from any other known pack, The Associated Press reports.

  • A Southern California judge who was accused of killing his wife texted his court clerk and bailiff admitting to the killing after the police found 47 weapons in the judge’s home.

  • A study of the practicality of composting part of Fresno’s sewage has been put on hold after a member of the City Council raised concerns about environmental effects for the community, The Fresno Bee reports.

  • The Outside Lands music festival has brought San Francisco so much money that city leaders want to expand it, ABC7 reports.

Today’s tip comes from Steve Moses, who recommends the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market on Thursday evenings: “It has to be the best farmers’ market in the state. Six blocks of food and fun that roll into happy hour. Plus, the best vegetables I have ever seen.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

A number of Los Angeles landmarks are turning 100 this year, including the Hollywood sign, the Memorial Coliseum and the Biltmore Hotel downtown.

Do you have favorite memories of these L.A. institutions? Share them in a few sentences with, and please include your name and the city where you live.

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

For the 23rd year, an event billed as the world’s only amateur surfing competition for wave riders who are 40 and older returned to Pacifica State Beach last month.

The competition, Kahuna Kupuna — which in Hawaiian means roughly “Big Chief, wise elder” — was started by Roy Earnest, a gerontologist who once helped produce a documentary about older surfers, The Mercury News reports.

“There’s a whole bunch of ways to make a community more livable for older adults,” Earnest told the news outlet. “And this is my way of making Pacifica more livable for older surfers.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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