The county’s data dashboard indicates that on August 9, 2021, at the peak of the wave as a result of the Delta variant, there were 4248 new cases recorded in the region. Today, the L.A. County Public Health Department announced that 4384 new cases had been recorded in the past 24 hours.
The Delta variant is more virulent than the original version of the virus and put more people in the hospital on a per-case basis. One of the hopeful signs of the recent rise in cases, which is driven in part by the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1, is that there seemed to be no meaningful rise in hospitalizations. That has now changed.
Since late April of this year, even as cases rose about 50%, daily Covid-related hospitalizations in the county hovered at about 250. Even as BA.2.12.1 was spreading and hospitalizations were rising in places like New York, where BA.2.12.1 spread more rapidly, local officials held up the stability of L.A.’s healthcare system as reason for optimism.
Last week, when asked about the difference in hospitalizations in the coastal metropolises on a call with reporters, County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer cited a combination of factors — including the lag between infection and illness and the protective nature of vaccines. She noted that the oldest people in L.A. County, who have much higher rates of vaccination had lower case rates.
About a week ago, however, daily hospitalizations in L.A. began creeping up. From 252 last Thursday, they rose to 312 virus-positive patients in county hospitals as of this Monday. On Tuesday, the number was 327. Today, the number sits at 363. While the numbers are still relatively small, that’s a 44% rise in one week.
The number of Covid-infected patients being treated in intensive care was 55, up from 44 on Tuesday.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus, while still relatively low, rose to 3.2% Wednesday, up from 2.6% on Tuesday.
Rising stress on the healthcare system has been the chief measure that officials have been watching. BA.2.12.1 is believed to have a higher growth factor than the Delta variant, but it is also believed to be less virulent. That belief had given hope to local officials, even as N.Y. hospitals have come under more strain.
Even given that, if the sheer number of cases is large enough, they could still cause overwhelm at hospitals. In fact, the original Omicron last winter was indeed less virulent than Delta, but still caused well over twice as many hospitalizations at its peak. See chart to the left.
And BA.2.12.1 is just getting started in L.A. Last week, Ferrer said it accounted for only 12% of positive test samples sequenced. That’s up from 8% of positive sequenced specimens the week before. But she also admitted that, for at least a month, the county has not met its goal of sequencing 5% of all positive tests. Due to decreasing Covid aid from the state and federal governments, the county has only sequenced about 3% of positive samples, which means there could be a substantial blind spot on variants in the region.
The CDC reported yesterday that 36% of all positive tests sequenced in the three-state region comprised of California, Arizona and Nevada were related to BA.2.12.1. Last week it was 28%. That’s still low compared to the 73% share BA.2.12.1 has in the region comprised of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
“I don’t know with any certainty that we’re going to have another summer surge,” said Ferrer last week before noting, “I am hopeful.” She said that the documented increases in cases would have to result in corresponding increases in hospitalizations in order to call what the county is experiencing a new surge. It seems we may be there now.