The average number of daily new COVID-19 infections in Los Angeles County has risen about 200% in the past month, but while the increase has not translated into an increase in local hospitalizations or deaths, the public health director warned on Tuesday May 3, the rapid spread of the virus leads to a faster emergence of new and potentially more dangerous variants.
Speaking to the Board of Supervisors, Barbara Ferrer, director of the province of Public Health, said the emergence of variants is becoming more frequent, with new COVID mutations being detected around the world.
“Within weeks of one variant of concern dominating, there are reports from other parts of the country or other parts of the world of other subtypes or different strains,” she said. “And this was especially the case with Omicron. So yes, we have started to see the spread of the BA.2.12.1 variant (from Omicron) here in the United States. … But in South Africa they are seeing a huge increase in the number of cases which is also now resulting in an increase in hospitalizations with a very different mutated virus that carries BA.4 and BA.5.
“And again, for some of these variants, they have moved from other countries around the world,” she said. “So when people ask why Public Health continues to be cautious, it’s because every time there’s a new variant that’s more contagious, or potentially more contagious… you have to be super careful of those who are most vulnerable in our communities. And in LA County, that’s millions of people. It’s not a small number.”
She noted that each new variant discovered in recent weeks tends to be more contagious than the last. And in the case of the variants detected in South Africa, people previously infected with the Omicron variant are reinfected, meaning the new virus strains evade that natural immunity.
Ferrer again urged residents to get vaccinated or get booster shots, noting that while the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus remains low, the situation could change.
“We’re in a better place, so we can stay hopeful,” she said. “But we must not lose all our caution.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said this should be especially true for people visiting stores or restaurants, stressing the need to protect workers even when masks are no longer needed in such indoor environments.
“The idea is that we don’t just protect ourselves. We really protect that person at the register who comes into contact with 500 people a day,” she said.
The province reported another 1,888 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total pandemic tally to 2,879,817. Ferrer noted that the province has averaged more than 2,000 cases per day for the past seven days, an increase of about 200% from the end of March.
The province also reported seven more virus-related deaths, taking the total death toll during the pandemic to 31,977.
According to state figures, there were 236 COVID-positive patients in provincial hospitals on Tuesday, up from 225 on Monday. Of those patients, 22 were treated in intensive care, up from 22 a day earlier.
The average daily number of people who tested positive for the virus in the province was 1.9% Tuesday, about the same as last week.