It's not a ``surge'' by any means, but COVID-19 transmission continues to be widespread across Los Angeles County, the public health director said today, noting increases in key metrics used to track the virus and warning of the suddenly increased presence of yet another even more communicable variant.
In pure numbers, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported another 2,335 COVID infections in the county on Thursday. The daily average number of new cases logged by the county over the past seven days rose to 1,764, up from 1,261 the previous week, she said.
The daily average case number is roughly triple the number it was a month ago, Ferrer said.
She also noted small but steady increases over the past week in the number of COVID-positive people in county hospitals. The number increased to 249 on Thursday, up from 235 on Wednesday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 30, up from 28 a day earlier.
Ferrer noted that those numbers are still relatively low when compared to the winter surge numbers that topped 8,000. She credited widespread vaccination, therapeutics and immunity from prior infection for preventing people who are getting infected from winding up hospitalized.
Health officials have warned in recent weeks that the rising case numbers may actually be bigger than the figures reflected by testing results -- since many people are testing at home and may not be reporting results to the county. And many others may not be getting tested at all because they are not becoming seriously ill.
In hopes of countering those lapses, the county monitors concentrations of COVID in four wastewater systems across the area. The most recent results show that the average concentration of the virus found in most of those systems has risen sharply, with two of them showing nearly double the rate from two weeks ago, and a third showing a sharp upward rise. But the fourth system monitored actually showed a small decrease.
"This suggests that community transmission is increasing in the areas covered by these sewage systems,'' Ferrer said.
She also noted upticks in outbreaks at homeless shelters and skilled nursing facilities, along with previously noted rises in cases among school students and staff following spring break.
According to Ferrer, the infectious BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19 is now responsible for 88% of the local cases that underwent special testing to identify variants. BA.2 has been blamed for increasing infection numbers locally and nationally, with officials saying it is exponentially more transmissible than the Omicron variant that fueled the winter surge in cases.
But now, there's another variant to worry about. Experts had previously identified an offshoot of BA.2 that has been dubbed BA.2.12.1, and it is now rapidly increasing its grip. That new offshoot was detected in 7% of L.A. County infections that underwent testing during the week that ended April 9 -- up from 3% the previous week.
Ferrer said state officials have estimated that BA.2.12.1 could represent half of all infections in California within a matter of days. She said experts have estimated that BA.2.12.1 is roughly 20% to 30% more infectious than BA.2.
"It could quickly become the dominant strain across the United States,'' Ferrer said, noting that the new offshoot has been found to represent 58% of tested cases in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico.
It's still unknown of BA.2.12.1 causes more severe illness or might be more resistant to vaccines.
The 2,335 new cases reported Thursday lifted the county's overall number from throughout the pandemic to 2,869,785. Eight more virus-related deaths were also reported Thursday, lifting the county's death toll from the virus to 31,959.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 1.8% as of Thursday.