Throughout the pandemic, a general rule of thumb has been that Covid-related hospitalizations tend to spike about two weeks after cases. Just about two weeks ago, Los Angeles County saw its first drastic jump in what had been a slow rise in daily cases, but thankfully no corresponding increase in hospitalizations has materialized.
On April 16, the number of daily new cases in the region increased to 1,510 from numbers that had been in the range of 1,100-1,200 the previous week. Since then, cases have risen about 78%, to 2,335 today. Given the two-week rule, hospitalizations should increase at a rapid rate.
But during that same period, daily Covid-related hospitalizations increased by just 21 patients, from 228 to 249. That increase is nowhere near the corresponding jumps seen in previous increases. The hope is that hospitalizations are “decoupling” from case trends, meaning the two are no longer as causally linked as they once were.
The county is only in the 2-week window, so the next few days could still see the usual increase, but the fact that there hasn’t been a jump yet is a hopeful sign.
Another hopeful indicator is the suspicion that daily case numbers are grossly underestimating the number of new infections. Many experts suspect that, given the prevalence of home tests, there are many more positives that have gone unaccounted for. If there are even more cases in the region, that would make the delta dividing infections from hospitalizations even wider.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in cases that is quite significant,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said today. “We started to see a small increase in hospitalizations. We have some things going on here. We have removed some of the safety guards, and we also had our spring break and spring break. I expect this rise that we are seeing to stabilize fairly soon without going much higher.”
As for hospitalizations, Ferrer is not yet ready to claim victory.
“Stable hospitalization rates reflect the usual delay we typically see, as well as the protective effects of vaccination, boosters and therapy, and the natural immunity some people gained. [from previous infections],” she said.
The wild card, says Ferrer, is the most transmissible new variant BA.2.12.1 which, during the week ending April 9, accounted for 7% of the samples tested. That’s an increase of 3% the week before. And given that April 9th was about two weeks ago, that turnout surely increased.
“You have to look at the data for the entire country,” Ferrer observed. “The East Coast is seeing an increase in hospitalizations and we don’t know enough about this new BA.2.12.1 variant. So let’s continue to be cautious. Let’s continue to be prepared depending on what we are learning and seeing.”