With case numbers slowly on the rise thanks to spread of the highly infectious BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19, Los Angeles County health officials are preaching vigilance, particularly as spring holidays approach.
The county has seen a daily rise in COVID infections, correlating with the local spread of BA.2, which is an offshoot of the Omicron variant that fueled a winter surge of cases. Considered far more infectious than Omicron, BA.2 is being blamed for infection spikes in areas such as Australia and the United Kingdom.
As of Friday, the county’s average number of daily new COVID infections over the past seven days was 892, up from 724 during the previous seven days — a 23% increase.
“While the county has made great strides in keeping outbreaks in many sectors low through a number of safety measures, there are millions of vulnerable residents in our communities, many of whom are neighbors, family members, or co-workers,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Friday.
“For these individuals, increasing transmission associated with the BA.2 subvariant poses a very real threat. As many of us prepare to gather for upcoming spring holidays, getting vaccinated or boosted, wearing a mask indoors in public places, and testing before and after gathering protects those most vulnerable and helps keep transmission lower across our communities.”
Ferrer reported Thursday that BA.2 represented 47% of all cases in the county that underwent specialized testing to identify COVID variants, but she said the percentage is likely higher, since the data reflect cases from two weeks ago. During the previous week, BA.2 represented only 32% of infections, up from 16% the week prior to that.
But as BA.2 has increased its foothold in the county and cases have risen as a result, the county has not yet seen a resulting rise in hospitalizations or deaths — a likely result of the county’s overall 75% vaccination rate combined with the number of people carrying virus protection due to prior infection.
According to state figures, there were 267 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Saturday, down from 275 on Friday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 40, up one from a day earlier.
The county reported another 16 virus-related deaths on Friday, raising the cumulative death toll to 31,770. Another 1,263 new cases were also reported, raising the overall pandemic total to 2,843,599.
The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose slightly to 1.2% on Friday, up from 1% a day earlier, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which does not report COVID data on weekends.
Ferrer said Thursday that the number of daily deaths attributed to the virus has continued falling, averaging 13 per day over the past week, compared to 17 per day a week earlier. The vast majority of people who die of COVID complications have underlying conditions, mainly hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
Health officials fear, however, that with the continued spread of cases comes an increasing threat of another mutation in the virus that could cause more severe illness and evade the protection of vaccines.