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LA’s COVID Cases Plateau As BA.2 Subvariant Spreads

A bar graph shows the BA.2 subvariant increasingly pushing out other omicron variants. BA.2 now makes up 32 percent of tests sequenced.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)
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Two months since the peak of the omicron surge, Los Angeles County’s new COVID cases have fallen to about 660 cases a day. But health officials say the rate of decline has plateaued, after mandatory masking rules were lifted and the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant continues to spread.

“Every single time we have reduced the restrictions or the levels of protection that are required, we have always seen an uptick … our job right now is to make sure that this doesn't lead to a significant increase in cases,” county health director Barbara Ferrer said at a press conference Thursday.

Nearly a third — 32% — of recent genetically sequenced tests were identified as BA.2, the highly contagious omicron subvariant. Those tests were for the week ending March 12 and the percentage was more than double the 14.7% from the previous week.

Increases in L.A. County reflect patterns seen around the world. Last week, the World Health Organization announced that worldwide, BA.2 accounted for 86% of sequenced cases. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that BA.2 is now the dominant variant in the U.S.

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Ferrer said she was most concerned about people who have not yet been vaccinated contracting the virus.

“There [are] still 1.7 million L.A. County residents 5 and older that haven't yet received their first dose, and an additional 2.8 million eligible residents 12 and older that need their first both booster dose,” she said.

COVID deaths in the county continue to drop, though on average about 17 fatalities are still reported daily. Over the weekend, Ferrer said another child was reported to have died from the virus. Eleven children have now died from COVID-19 in L.A. County.

BA.2 is the only indicator of 'high' concern in the county's early alert signals.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

Despite the rise in the extremely contagious BA.2 subvariant, L.A. County’s current Centers for Disease Control Community Level remains low, with 66 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. In total, 784 new cases were reported Thursday, and 16 deaths. There are 308 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized, and the county’s positivity rate ticked up slightly to 1.1%.

Angelenos aged 50 and over, as well as immunocompromised people 12 and up, are all eligible for a second booster. Ferrer encouraged everyone eligible to get another shot.

“The biggest worry right now is we certainly don't have enough people boosted,” Ferrer said. “It's hard to understand the hesitancy for people not to come in quickly and get that booster dose. Evidence all over the world shows waning protection from vaccines over time, people who are at higher risk, people who are older, people who have underlying health conditions … are the most vulnerable,” she said.

Ferrer encouraged everyone to wear masks in public places, and get tested for the virus if they have symptoms.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.