The Delta and Omicron variants led to a “double increase” in Covid-related infections in Los Angeles today, according to health officials. As a result, the county reported 16,510 new cases within the past 24 hours, a 91% increase over the course of a week. It is the highest daily number of cases since January 6 this year according to county data and one of the highest daily cases of the entire pandemic.
The increase was almost a given given that the county’s 7-day test positivity rate has increased 100% in the last 7 days, from 8.8% a week ago to 17.6%. It is for a measure that is averaged over seven days to eliminate peaks and valleys. Just a glance at the county’s graph of test positivity during the pandemic seems to indicate that it is now rising steeper than at any other time during the pandemic – except in the earliest days when only a few hundred tests were administered. See the diagram below.
Most worryingly, the data point that county health officials have long been most focused on, hospitalizations, has begun to skyrocket. The number of covid-related admissions has increased by 75% in the last week.
Seven days ago, the county reported 770 patients with Covid-19. Today, that number had risen to 1,367, according to California’s data dashboard, which is often a day leader of the county’s offerings. The recent rise marks the first time that such patients have counted over 1,000 in more than three months.
Health authorities have long been concerned about an increase in the capacity of local hospitals, which could lead to less treatment per patient and thus more deaths. Although Omicron is widely considered to be less virulent than Delta, it is also much more transferable. There is concern that even if Omicron hospitalizations account for only a small fraction of total infections, the tidal wave of cases driven by a much more contagious variant could overwhelm the healthcare system.
California’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Tomás Aragón, said this week that the latest state forecasts indicate that hospital increases are on the way.
“Even if the Omicron variant causes less serious illness (e.g. 50%), our model builders predict hospital increases for CA,” Aragón wrote on Twitter.
“Why? Omicron is so contagious that it finds unvaccinated / non-immune people most vulnerable to hospitalizations and deaths,” he noted.
There is some good news on the Omicron front. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised estimates for its prevalence last week. While it was previously thought to account for 73% of all cases in the United States, Omicron is now estimated to account for 59% of all infections and Delta 41% of infections. In the week ending December 18, 54% of LA County-sequenced positive cases were Omicron variants. The new strain was discovered in California on November 25th.