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WASHINGTON (AP) — Many Americans don’t expect to rely on the digital services that became commonplace during the pandemic after COVID-19 subsides, according to a new poll, even as many think it’s a good thing if those options remain available in the future.

Close to half or more of U.S. adults say they are not likely to attend virtual activities, receive virtual health care, have groceries delivered or use curbside pickup after the coronavirus pandemic is over, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Less than 3 in 10 say they’re very likely to use any of those options at least some of the time.

Still, close to half also say it would be a good thing if virtual options for health care, for community events and for activities like fitness classes or religious services continue after the pandemic.

“Rather than this either-or, I think we’re more likely to be facing a hybrid future,” said Donna Hoffman, director of the Center for the Connected Consumer at the George Washington School of Business. “People have found convenience in some of these virtual options that just makes sense, and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with like keeping you safe or the pandemic even though they came of age during the pandemic.”

Digital daily routines became the default in 2020 as the nation reacted to the rapidly spreading virus, which prompted lockdowns, closed schools and shuttered businesses. Some substitutions, like online shopping and video conference calling, already existed. Others were reimagined or popularized during the pandemic.

Either way, Hoffman said, there was “rapid” deployment and adoption of virtual services. It was a question of “how are we going to make this work?” she said.

Cornelius Hairston said his family took precautions throughout the pandemic because his wife is a first responder in the health care field.

“We tried to stay in as much as we could and only come out for essentials,” said Hairston, 40, who recently moved to Roanoke, Virginia.

Hairston joked that his twin 4-year-old boys are “COVID babies” who didn’t even go to a grocery store for much of their young lives. The family used delivery services almost exclusively to avoid venturing out to crowded stores. But going forward, he only expects to use them “from time to time.”

For Angie Lowe, the convenience of telemedicine and time saved was reason enough to do it again even though she and her husband returned to doing things in public more than a year ago.

Lowe had her first telemedicine appointment early in the pandemic when feeling “lonely” and “stuck at home” kept her from sleeping well. She was able to talk with the doctor without having to take extra time off of work to drive to and wait in a medical center.

“It was my first telemedicine appointment, but it won’t be my last,” said Lowe, 48, of Sterling, Illinois. “If I can do it, I’m going to do it.”

For many, though, drawbacks outweigh the benefits of relying on digital services in the future. Adults age 50 or older are especially likely to say they are not planning to use the virtual options asked about on the poll going forward, even though many were introduced during the pandemic to protect the at-risk population.

Despite feeling antsy about COVID-19 and infection rates in Phoenix, Tony DiGiovane, 71, said he found curbside pickup at grocery stores and restaurants to be more hassle than they’re worth.

“By the time I picked up the stuff, I needed more stuff,” he said of his grocery orders, and “something’s always missing or wrong” on takeout orders.

Karen Stewart, 63, recognizes the benefits of video calls, but she’s also found them to be limiting. That’s the case in her job organizing after school programming for kids. She also now sees some of her doctors online, one who provides virtual care almost exclusively and another who uses virtual care in between office visits.

She likes that she doesn’t have to drive, but it means a doctor or nurse can’t take her vitals or be “hands on” in her care. It was “scary,” for example, when all of her appointments in the lead-up to a surgery were online, she said.

“When I do that they they can’t take my blood pressure, my pulse. There’s things that a doctor might pick up on that they can’t see online,” said Stewart of Perris, California.

The pandemic created an opportunity to balance in-person and virtual services to support the physical and mental health of older adults, said Alycia Bayne, a principal research scientist at NORC. That “could be particularly beneficial to older adults with different health issues, mobility limitations, people who lack transportation options, people who do not have or live near a robust social networks like family and friends to lean on,” she said.

Still, there remain limitations with technology access, broadband access and digital literacy, which Bayne said may help explain why the poll finds older adults less likely to use digital services after the pandemic.

Despite the age gap on use of services, similar percentages of adults across ages say it’s a good thing for virtual options for health care, for community events and meetings and for activities to continue after the pandemic.

“They recognize the benefits of virtual services, but they’re also ready to start getting back to their pre-pandemic routines,” she said. “The silver lining, of course, is that these services are now available.”

___

The poll of 1,001 adults was conducted May 12-16 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

___

Rico reported from Atlanta.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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L.A. County drops out of high COVID-19 level as surge eases

Los Angeles County officially moved out of the high COVID-19 community level Thursday as one top state health official expressed hope that California is at the end of the pandemic’s latest wave.

Officials continue to urge caution, noting that coronavirus case rates remain high and still strongly recommend universal masking in indoor public spaces as schools resume classes.

Still, L.A. County’s move from the high to medium level, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, underscores the recent promising trends in the nation’s most populous county — which prompted officials to drop plans for a renewed mask mandate late last month.

“While we’re greatly encouraged by the decline in cases, hospital admissions and deaths, because viral transmission remains high, there are still thousands of new people each day who are infected and therefore capable of infecting others,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

Since getting infected causes disruption among families and at workplaces, “and, for some, becoming infected leads to debilitating illness, we advise caution and ongoing use of a layered approach for reducing the risk of exposure and preventing severe illness,” she added Thursday.

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A primary prong of that is vaccination. Focus is now turning to the prospect of an Omicron-specific booster that may be authorized in late September and available for administration in October, ahead of a potential fall-and-winter wave. It’s unclear, however, what age groups would be eligible for that additional dose.

For the seven-day period that ended Wednesday, L.A. County has reported an average of about 3,900 new coronavirus cases per day — down 26% from the prior week, according to a Times analysis of county data.

On a per-capita basis, that’s 268 cases a week for every 100,000 residents. The summer’s peak rate was 476, logged between July 12 and July 18. A rate of 100 or more is considered a high rate of transmission.

The number of coronavirus-positive individuals hospitalized countywide also has started to fall significantly. As of Wednesday, 1,098 such individuals were in L.A. County’s hospitals — down 17% from this wave’s July 20 peak.

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The number of coronavirus-positive intensive care unit patients also has begun to fall. There were 125 as of Wednesday, down 15% from the summer’s July 27 peak.

And weekly COVID-19 deaths may be starting to flatten or drop. L.A. County reported 103 COVID-19 deaths for the week that ended Wednesday, down from a summer peak of 122 for the weekly period that ended Saturday.

To move from the high to medium COVID-19 community level, L.A. County had to record fewer than 10 new weekly coronavirus-positive hospital admissions for every 100,000 residents. The county came oh-so-close last week, recording a rate of 10.1, according to the CDC.

The most recent assessment released Thursday by the CDC pegged the county’s rate at 9.9.

Originally, Ferrer had said that a new indoor mask order would go into effect if the county reached the high community level and remained there for three weeks. But on the pivotal date — July 28 — she scuttled that possibility, citing marked improvements in coronavirus case and hospitalization rates.

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Among the strategies health officials recommend are staying up to date on vaccinations, improving indoor air quality, promoting good hand hygiene and supporting access to testing.

The overall number of Californians living in counties with a high COVID-19 community level also dramatically fell Thursday. There were only 37% of California residents in counties at that level, a substantial drop from the prior week’s proportion of 74%. There were 21 California counties in the high COVID-19 community level, down from 28 the prior week.

Nine counties exited the high level Thursday: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sonoma, Imperial, Sutter, Lake, Calaveras and Modoc. Two entered the high level: Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

In Southern California, Orange and Ventura counties remain in the high level; while Riverside and San Bernardino counties remain in medium. Some of the most populous counties in Northern California and the Central Valley, however, remained in the high COVID-19 community level, including Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, San Mateo, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Solano and Monterey counties.

The trends in L.A. County largely mirror those statewide. Over the weeklong period ending Monday, California reported an average of 12,750 new coronavirus cases per day — a decrease of 26% from the prior week, according to state data compiled by The Times. On a per capita basis, California is recording 228 cases a week for every 100,000 residents.

Coronavirus-positive hospitalizations across California are also down markedly, from more than 4,800 in late July to 4,030 as of Wednesday; coronavirus-positive ICU patients are down from a summer peak of 571 to 484.

“I think we’re hopefully at the tail end now of this most recent surge,” state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said during a panel discussion Tuesday.

With the worst of the wave now seemingly in the rearview mirror, it’s becoming increasingly clear the major uptick in transmission — fueled by subvariants in the super-contagious Omicron family — did not wreak the same sort of havoc on hospitals as earlier surges.

Though case counts reached levels surpassed only by the 2020 and 2021 winter waves, the number of coronavirus-positive patients remained comparatively low.

“While we did see a lot of transmission here in California with these new subvariants of Omicron again, thankfully, the hospitalizations have been low and stable,” Pan said.

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COVID-19 safety measures will mirror county requirements, a step back from more aggressive protocols on testing, masking and vaccinations.

California’s weekly COVID-19 death tally is still climbing, however, and rose to 304 for the week that ended Monday, the highest tally this summer. Still, the latest figure is far less than previous waves. The summer of 2020 peaked at 1,024 weekly deaths, and the summer of 2021 with 945 weekly deaths. During the first pandemic winter, there were 3,815 deaths during the worst week; and the worst weekly death tally last winter was 1,827.

California has reported more than 93,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began. Nearly 29,000 deaths have been reported in the last 12 months.

Unlike earlier surges, a significant amount of those patients this time around — including 57% in L.A. County — were not hospitalized for COVID-19 illness but happened to incidentally test positive after seeking care for some other reason.

Experts and officials largely credit the wider disconnect between case counts and hospitalizations increased vaccination and COVID-19 treatments. Changes in the coronavirus itself also may have played a role, as there are indications that Omicron and its subvariants cause milder symptoms for many than preceding variants.

Despite the improvements, experts warn that COVID-19 is still likely to be deadlier than the flu.

“If we continue on the trajectory we’re on for death rates, this is where we’d end up — with about 100,000 deaths per year, which is three times more than influenza deaths per year. So that’s still substantial mortality,” UC San Francisco epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford said at a panel discussion last week.

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