L.A. County COVID Deaths Rise Amid BA.5 Wave

July 15, 2022 — COVID-19 deaths in Los Angeles County have increased in recent weeks, prompting concerns as the contagious BA.5 Omicron subvariant fuels an infection wave across the country.

The county’s number of weekly COVID-19 deaths has doubled during the past month, shifting from about 50 deaths per week to about 100 deaths in the last week and reaching levels last seen in early April.

Although the numbers are still low as compared to the initial Omicron surge in January, with more than 500 deaths per week, public health officials are taking note of the trend.

“There’s a lot of misinformation circulating about COVID right now, including that, at this point, it only causes mild illness. Unfortunately, this isn’t true,” Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s public health director, said this week during a meeting with the county’s board of supervisors.

Omicron tends to cause less severe disease than the Delta variant, which fueled last summer’s surge. At the same time, Omicron subvariants have already led to three times as many deaths this year as Los Angeles County typically records in an average pre-pandemic flu season, the newspaper reported.

So far in 2022, Los Angeles County has reported 4,390 COVID-19 deaths, which is equal to the combined death toll for the flu, drug overdoses and car crashes during an entire year, Ferrer said. About 1,500 county residents die per year from the flu. More than 2,000 people die each year from accidental drug overdoses and nearly 900 people die per year from vehicle accidents, she said.

Los Angeles County reported 14,500 COVID-19 deaths in 2021 and 12,000 in 2020. Overall, California’s cumulative death toll for the pandemic has now surpassed 92,000.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are also increasing in Los Angeles County, according to the Los Angeles Times. The number of coronavirus-positive patients has doubled in the past month to about 1,200, reaching the highest point since February. Among those, 115 are in intensive care, which has increased 64% in the past month.

About 42% of hospitalized patients in Los Angeles County are admitted specifically for COVID-19, the newspaper reported, with the others testing positive after being admitted for other reasons. About 10% of current emergency department visits are coronavirus-related, as compared to about 5% two months ago.

At the national level, COVID-19 deaths have remained relatively stable at around 300 to 350 deaths per day, according to the data tracker from The New York Times, with the latest average climbing to 415 daily deaths.

Hospitalizations have also remained stable at around 30,000 for the past month, the data tracker shows, increasing about 20% in the past two weeks to nearly 40,000.

National coronavirus cases are also increasing after remaining stable since mid-May, according to the data tracker. The daily average is about 133,000 new cases, increasing 17% in the past two weeks.

In Los Angeles County, which is the nation’s most populous county, case numbers have reached the highest rate since February and have climbed higher than last summer’s Delta peak. About 6,000 daily cases were reported during the last week, surpassing the 3,500 daily cases from last summer, Ferrer said.

“While we’re not seeing anywhere near the devastation this summer that we saw during last winter’s Omicron surge, we are seeing much higher case numbers than we saw during the peak of the Delta surge,” she said. “It’s unlikely that we are at the peak of our recent surge, given the increased circulation of new subvariants.”

Ferrer has said that if Los Angeles County moves into the CDC’s high level and remains there for two weeks, health officials will reimpose a universal mask mandate for indoor public settings, the newspaper reported. Based on current hospitalization numbers, a mask order could become effective as soon as July 29.

“When transmission is high, many more people are exposed and get infected, creating more risk for everyone, but particularly for the most vulnerable,” she said. “Universal masking and widespread use of testing are effective tools for reducing viral transmission.”

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