Los Angeles County reported 1,355 new Covid cases on Friday, continuing an upward trend that began about a week ago as the more infectious BA.2 subvariant continues to spread.
Last week, the 7-day average daily number of new cases in the county was 878. As of yesterday, the county was averaging over 1,000 new Covid cases per day.
Increasing even more than the number of daily cases is the 7-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus, a data point that is considered a more accurate indication of the spread because, in addition to being an average, it represents the increase and decrease of the test. numbers. That rate had been stable below 1%, but rose to 1.7% on Thursday and hit 2.4% on Friday. The rate is still low overall, but more than double what it was a week ago and about triple what it was two weeks ago. That’s a huge increase for a number that’s a 7-day average.
The rising number of cases has yet to translate into a rise in hospitalizations and deaths, something optimists continue to point to as the region tries to get back on track after Omicron’s winter spell. The number of COVID-positive hospitalized patients in Los Angeles County actually plunged today, and it’s been trending that way.
Last Friday, the number of COVID-positive hospitalized patients was 275. Today, the number was 228. That’s a 17% drop in one week. Of those patients, 31 were being treated in intensive care, up from 32 on Thursday. Another 13 virus-related deaths were also reported on Friday.
The BA.2 subvariant, a more infectious offshoot of the Omicron variant that caused a winter surge in cases, is now the dominant strain of the virus in the county, according to public health officials. The most recent data indicates that it accounts for 67% of new infections, but that data is more than two weeks old, so the variant likely accounts for a much higher percentage of new cases at this time.
It has been speculated that BA.2, although more transmissible, is also less virulent. In some regions, an increase in BA.2-related cases has not been followed by an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. That difference from the winter Omicron wave is cause for cautious optimism. But it is still too early to say that everything is clear in BA.2.
Throughout the pandemic, increases in hospitalizations have generally followed increases in daily cases of about 2 weeks. Part of BA.2’s increased ability to infect people is thought to be a shorter incubation period, meaning hospitalizations have risen earlier, by between 10 and 14 days. So since the number of cases only started to rise in earnest last week, any resulting spike in hospitalizations will likely manifest late next week or the last week of April.
Indeed, while some regions seem to have avoided a surge in hospitalizations, the UK, which has often foreshadowed trends in the US, recently saw a rise in both hospitalizations and deaths.
Closer to home, New York has begun to see a steady rise in hospitalizations after a spike in infections and test positivity. The average number of 7-day hospitalizations in the state was about 2,000 at the end of March, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. They were more than 5,600 as of Wednesday, the most recent day for which data is available.
One variable in the mix is whether daily testing, which is at one of its lowest levels in about a month, accurately captures the current wave of new cases. The difference between the increase in 7-day average test positivity and the 7-day average number of cases would seem to support that suspicion.
Additionally, a new state study suggests that the number of people in Los Angeles County who have been infected with Covid-19 during the pandemic is much higher than the number confirmed through standard testing. That’s largely due to the number of people who never developed symptoms and thus never got tested, or were unable to access testing, or tested positive at home and never reported results.
City News Service contributed to this report.