The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Friday that the new KP.3 COVID-19 variant has surged to account for 25% of new cases nationwide, making it the dominant strain in the United States. This development comes as key metrics tracked by the CDC indicate a slight uptick in virus spread, particularly as the country approaches the season typically marked by peaks in COVID-19 infections.

Data from the CDC's wastewater surveillance reveals increasing levels of the virus, especially in the western United States. Concurrently, emergency room visits for COVID-19 have risen slightly across all age groups, and the CDC estimates that infections are growing in 30 states and territories.

KP.3 and Its Predecessors

KP.3 has surpassed the KP.2 variant, which had previously been the dominant strain but now represents 22.5% of cases. Both KP.3 and KP.2 are closely related to the JN.1 variant that dominated the previous winter's wave. According to Natalie Thornburg, chief lab official at the CDC's Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, the differences between KP.2 and KP.3 are minimal, though early data suggest that KP.3 may be better at evading immunity.

"When you look at KP.2 and KP.3, they're nearly identical to each other with really one difference between the two of them," Thornburg noted. This minor distinction, however, could impact the virus's ability to spread and bypass immune defenses.

New Vaccine Formulations

The rise of KP.3 coincides with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deciding to call for updated vaccines targeting the JN.1 variant. Moderna and Pfizer presented data suggesting their KP.2-targeted shots offered similar protection against the latest variants, including KP.3. However, the FDA ultimately opted to prioritize a vaccine formulation aimed at JN.1, as it was deemed potentially more effective at broadening immunity against future strains.

"While we always say we shouldn't be chasing strains, we're paying a high premium for mRNA vaccines to have the freshest vaccines," stated Peter Marks of the FDA. The decision reflects a strategic choice to balance immediate efficacy with broader, longer-term protection.

Public Health Response in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles County, public health officials have reported small increases in COVID-19 cases, wastewater virus concentrations, and the percentage of positive tests over the past four weeks. With summer travel and gatherings on the rise, authorities emphasize the importance of continued precautions to prevent further spread.

Los Angeles County has historically seen increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations during the summer months. This year, the trend is similar, with average daily cases rising from 83 to 106 in recent weeks. Hospital admissions have also increased slightly, though deaths remain relatively low and stable.

Precautions and Recommendations

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health advises residents to take common-sense precautions to avoid COVID-19 infection. These include testing for COVID-19, especially if symptoms are present, and adhering to isolation protocols if testing positive. Vaccination remains one of the most effective measures, particularly for individuals aged 65 and older, who are encouraged to receive the updated (2023-2024 formula) vaccine for added protection.

Public health officials also recommend frequent hand washing or using hand sanitizer, especially before eating, after sneezing or coughing, or when in public spaces. Residents should stay home if they exhibit any symptoms of illness and communicate with friends and family to avoid gatherings if they show signs of infection.

Accessibility of Resources

Los Angeles County continues to offer various resources for residents concerned about COVID-19 exposure or seeking increased protection. The Public Health InfoLine, available seven days a week, provides assistance with vaccination appointments, telehealth care coordination for COVID-19 treatment, and answers to general queries about the virus.

The Public Health COVID data webpage is regularly updated with comprehensive data and dashboards on COVID-19 metrics, enabling residents to stay informed about the status of the virus in their community.