Omicron variants fueling recent increases in COVID-19 cases

Mayra Beltran Vasquez / Los Angeles County

9 INCREASES in new Omicron variants continue to fuel high transmission in Los Angeles County, with cases and hospitalizations currently much higher than they were at this time last year, showing just how infectious the current Omicron variants and sub-lineages are.

For specimens collected for the week ending May 21, 98% of specimens continue to be BA.2 and its sublineages. However, the proportion of the BA.2 Omicron variant itself, excluding its sublineages, appears to be plateauing, and continues to account for about half of the specimens sequenced in the County. The BA.2.3 Omicron sublineage has decreased, accounting for only about 3% of specimens in the most recent week.

In contrast, BA.2.12.1 sublineage accounted for 42% of positive sequenced specimens, a small increase from the previous week. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that BA.2.12.1 will account for 62% of specimens collected the week ending June 4.

The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants continue to remain rare in LA County, but a few cases are being detected every week. To date we have detected a total of 49 positive, sequenced specimens of these two subvariants – 27 of BA.4 and 22 of BA.5. The CDC estimated that, across the country, these two variants combined may have increased from about 1% to 13% of specimens collected in the past month. This suggests they may have the ability to outcompete other circulating variants. There is also concern that they may be able to cause re-infections in people who have already been infected by other Omicron subvariants.

The average number of daily new cases reported over the last seven days increased to 4,847 from one month ago when the average number of cases reported was 2,793 – an increase of 74%. The current high case numbers are also in stark contrast to the average number of cases last year, nearly 25 times higher in fact, as there were only 190 average daily new cases in the middle of June 2021.

The current seven-day average test positivity rate, at almost 5%, continues to be higher than it was a month ago when the seven-day average test positivity rate was 2.7%.

The highly infectious variants and sub-lineages fueling the recent higher case numbers have translated to more than double the number of people severely ill and needing to be hospitalized than a month ago.

Over the last seven days, the average number of COVID-positive patients per day in LA County hospitals was 580, an increase of 124% from one month ago when the average number of COVID-positive patients per day was 259.

Deaths, which typically lag hospitalizations by several weeks, while still low, are beginning to slightly increase at an average of seven deaths reported per day this past week. One month ago, on May 13, there was an average of four deaths reported for the previous seven days.

“As always, we extend our deepest sympathies and prayers for healing to everyone mourning the loss of a loved one from COVID,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health. “The highly infectious Omicron variants are providing uncertainty about the trajectory of this recent surge in cases. At this time last year, we benefitted from a much lower rate of transmission associated with a more stable virus. The concern with the rapidity of emerging highly infectious variants is that for each new variant, we need to reassess how much the new strain evades vaccine protection, causes severe illness, and avoids detection with current tests. And to be dominant, the new strains are likely to be even more infectious than the previous strains. Until we have a more precise understanding of how the new viral strains interact with us and our community, we need to remain vigilant and cautious. This includes layering protections to keep those most vulnerable as safe as possible, including wearing masks indoors, getting tested before gathering or attending events, and staying home if you are sick.”

Public Health reported 17 additional deaths and 6,385 new positive cases for Saturday, 3,583 new cases for Sunday, and 2,998 new cases for Monday. The lower number of cases and deaths are likely to reflect reporting delays over the weekend. Of the 17 new deaths reported today, one person was between the ages of 30-49, two people were between the ages of 50-64, five people were between the ages of 65-79, and eight people were aged 80 years or older. For information on the one death reported by the City of Long Beach, visit longbeach.gov. Of the 17 newly reported deaths, 14 had underlying health conditions.  To date, the total number of deaths in L.A. County is 32,218.

Public Health has reported a total of 3,038,588 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County. Today’s positivity rate is 4.8%.

There are 593 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized. Testing results are available for more than 12,088,466 individuals, with 23% of people testing positive. (AJPress)

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