The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals has decreased by 18 people to 235, reversing the trend of the last few days, according to the latest state data out Saturday.
The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 26, up from 25 a day earlier.
Those numbers come one day after the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 2,550 new infections, prompting another plea for residents to exercise caution and wear masks in public, although masking remains voluntary in most places.
The county's daily case numbers have been rising in April, driven by the highly contagious BA.2 subvariant. The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 1.8% this week, roughly the same as the previous week.
On Thursday, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted steady increases in many metrics being used to track the spread of the virus in the county, including daily case rates, hospitalization numbers, outbreaks at workplaces, infections at schools and skilled nursing facilities and concentrations of COVID detected in various wastewater systems.
She also warned about growing spread of yet another variant, this one known as BA.2.12.1 -- an offshoot of the BA.2 variant that fueled a winter surge in cases. BA.2.12.1 is estimated to be 20% to 30% more infectious than BA.2.
According to Ferrer, BA.2.12.1 was detected in 7% of LA County infections that underwent testing to identify variants during the week that ended April 9 -- up from 3% the previous week. She said state officials have estimated that BA.2.12.1 could represent half of all infections in California within a matter of days.
"It could quickly become the dominant strain across the United States," Ferrer said, noting that the new offshoot has been found to represent 58% of tested cases in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico.
It's still unknown if BA.2.12.1 causes more severe illness or might be more resistant to vaccines.
"During this period of high transmission and the potential for more infectious variants, one of the best and easiest safety measures is to wear a well-fitting, high filtration mask or respirator when indoors around others," Ferrer said in a statement. "This is especially true if someone is at higher risk for severe illness, or they live or they work with someone who is at elevated risk. The fact is that when people wear a well-fitting mask or respirator, they protect themselves and those around them.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have all had to make choices about how to best protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. With cases on the rise, the potential for more contagious variants, and lots of opportunities to be exposed, this is a great time to make a choice to get vaccinated or boosted and to wear a mask or respirator when indoors around others."
Although most mask mandates have been lifted, face coverings are still required in Los Angeles County aboard transit vehicles, in airports and transit centers, in health care settings and homeless shelters.
Another four virus-related deaths were reported in the county Friday, raising the overall death toll to 31,959.
Health officials have said that the majority of people who die of COVID complications have underlying conditions, mainly hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.