By Jackie Fortiér

Originally published Jan 27, 2022

Two years since Los Angeles County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, the latest surge — driven by the highly contagious omicron variant — seems to be receding, even as more than 26,000 new cases were reported Thursday.

“We can see that the date we reported the highest number of cases was actually January 8, 2022, which is further evidence that transmission has slowed,” County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday at her weekly press conference.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in L.A. County has dropped to 4,323 after days of more than 4,500 patients. The surge continues to pummel area hospitals, as staff members have continued to deal with the influx of mostly unvaccinated patients while many contract the virus themselves.

“We are cautiously optimistic that this very small recent decline in daily case numbers and the corresponding drop in COVID admissions will translate to less stress on hospitals across the county in the weeks to come,” Ferrer said.

As of Tuesday, 36% of people in intensive care units were COVID patients, far below last winter’s surge when they filled half of the county’s ICU beds.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus in the county was nearly 13% as of Thursday. The county’s seven-day average case rate declined to 278 cases per 100,000 residents.

The county remains in the CDC’s “high” transmission category, a designation it’s held since Dec. 9 of last year.

The number of people dying has increased to 59 people on average per day in the past week.

The virus still poses risks, especially for children under the age of 5 who cannot be vaccinated. This week it was reported that a 15-month-old died in L.A. County, the youngest child whose death is attributed to the virus since the pandemic began.

“The numbers are coming down, but … 26,000 new cases a day — it’s pretty easy to unintentionally either pass on COVID or to become infected with COVID,” Ferrer said.

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Subvariant Of Omicron Found In L.A.

While COVID-19 cases have begun to decline, public health officials said four cases of the BA.2 subvariant have been detected in the county since the beginning of January. Other parts of California have also reported cases, as well as New Mexico, Texas and Washington state, as well as in Africa, Europe and Asia.

BA.2 is a subvariant of BA.1, more commonly known as the omicron variant.

“Very little of it appears to be circulating right now here in L.A. County.” Ferrer said. “There are preliminary reports that indicate that it acts similarly to the omicron variant that is circulating and dominating the most here.”

It’s unknown if people who were previously infected with omicron can get infected again with BA.2, she said. It’s also unclear if it’s more transmissible.

Ferrer said the public health department is reviewing data from Denmark, where the BA.2 subvariant is surging. The concern, she said, was that BA.2 could cause a second surge in cases, just as the original omicron variant looks to be dropping off.

Workplaces had the highest instances of COVID-19 outbreaks. Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health

Outbreaks Are Up 

Between Jan. 16 and Jan. 20, there were 15 new school outbreaks reported. An outbreak is considered three or more cases at one location. Thirteen were in elementary schools, one in a high school and one in youth sports. Ferrer said the health department is currently investigating 46 active school outbreaks countywide.

Outbreaks at worksites “skyrocketed” during the winter surge, Ferrer said. She encouraged employees to report their employer anonymously if COVID workplace safety standards are not being met.

Workers can report workplace COVID safety lapses anonymously. Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health

COVID Crossroads 

Even if we are past the omicron peak, that means half of the cases are yet to come.

“We are still on the backend of a very steep slope, [during this surge] our case numbers are higher than they have ever been during the pandemic,” said Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, in an interview with LAist.

Rimoin says the next phase of the pandemic will be complicated, as cases continue to drop.

“The risk isn’t zero for people and we need to do everything that we can to continue to push the number of cases down and to be really vigilant so that we can continue on this trend,” Rimoin said. “We don’t know what this virus has in store for us next. And we need to be thoughtful and cautious and really protect our health workers and our health system and those people who can’t protect themselves.”

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2022 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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