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COVID-19 Update: Cases Rising, New Variant on Horizon, but No Severe Surge Predicted

COVID-19 cases are rising again, with 7-day averages now three times what they were a month ago.


While we are still definitely in a “post-surge” period of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is definitely still with us, and in her weekly address yesterday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported that cases have been rising steadily again for the last four weeks, with the 7-day average now three times what it was a month ago.

More specifically, Ferrer said, LA County reported 2,335 new cases yesterday, and for the first time in several weeks, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations have ticked up a bit, too, from a low of 209 last Saturday to 240 yesterday. And case positivity has risen a bit as well.



But even though the rising numbers put us back at an officially “high rate of transmission,” Ferrer also reported that our “community level” – the CDC-defined metric that indicates whether or not our health care system is being stressed by the current spread of COVID-19, remains low.



Also, among the early alert signals being tracked by LA County, the only one registering as a matter of “high concern” at the moment is the percentage of new cases identified as the Omicron BA.2 subvariant, which now represents 88% of all cases in LA County.





In addition to the BA.2 subvariant, however, Ferrer noted that there is also another new subvariant on the horizon now, known as BA.2.12.1.  This Omicron subvariant currently accounts for 58% of all cases in New York and New Jersey, Ferrer reported, and 29% of all cases across the United States.  Ferrer said that so far, BA.2.12.1 seems to be about 20-30% more transmissible than BA.2 (which was also much more transmissible than its predecessors), but it’s not known yet whether or not BA.2.12.1 causes more severe illness than other variants, or how it interacts with our current COVID vaccines.

Ferrer said that 7% of all cases in LA County for the week ending April 7 were identified as BA.2.12.1, and it’s likely to account for as much as 50% within a few days.

Meanwhile, while wastewater monitoring in LA County shows that COVID-19 levels in wastewater have also been rising recently, Ferrer said, those levels do seem have plateaued, at least for the moment, just short of twice the daily average of two weeks ago, which is the County’s threshold for concern.



But Ferrer said we are starting to see some new outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities and homeless settings…



…in worksites…



…and in TK-12th grade schools.  But Ferrer said this last uptick is not unexpected following the recent removal of indoor mask requirements for schools, and in the weeks following spring break and spring holidays, when many families had more gatherings and greater opportunities for exposure to the virus.



So what do the rising numbers mean – or not mean – right now?

Well, first of all, Ferrer said she does not foresee another imminent surge, nor any need to reverse recent relaxations of masking rules…something she said would happen only if we move back into the “high” community level as defined by the CDC.  That designation would indicate that our health care system was in danger of becoming overwhelmed again, and Ferrer said, “that is the one automatic trigger” that would immediately result in new mask mandates.

At the same time, though, Ferrer also said the virus is still here and still unpredictable, and the rising numbers mean that we should continue to use the most effective prevention tools in our current toolkit – masking in public places, testing as often as necessary, and making sure that as many people as possible are both fully vaccinated and boosted.  She said the vaccines have proven consistently effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths with all of the major variants we’ve faced so far, but since immunity does wane with time (even for those who gained an initial measure of immunity from an actual COVID infection), booster shots are very important for all who are eligible.

Also, Ferrer pointed out that so far only 37% of children ages 5-11 in LA County have been vaccinated, so this age group represents one of our biggest opportunities to increase our overall vaccination rate, and our overall immunity as a community.



In closing, Ferrer reminded everyone that although we are still in a calmer, post-surge phase of the pandemic, the virus is still very much with us, cases are going up, and – despite many people’s wishes to stop thinking about such things – this is “not the time to stop worrying about cases at all.”

In fact, Ferrer noted, masks are still required in many high-risk settings in LA County, such as health care settings, long-term and senior care facilities, correctional facilities, public transportation and transportation hubs, and more.  And even in places – such as K-12 schools – where masks are no longer required, they are still highly recommended to help keep everyone as healthy as possible



“Let’s continue to follow the data, let’s continue to be prepared to take appropriate measures depending on what we’re learning and seeing,” Ferrer said, “both in other parts of the country and the world, and what we’re experiencing here in our county.”

Finally, in other COVID-19 news this week:


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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