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Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 case numbers are no longer declining and there has been an increase in the circulation of the highly infectious BA.2 subvariant, the county’s health director said on Thursday.

Up until recently, the county had been seeing falling daily case numbers as the region emerged from an omicron-fueled winter surge that overwhelmed testing sites and sent infection numbers skyrocketing.

As COVID-19 loosened its grip on the county, officials eased COVID-19 restrictions. Masks became optional at many indoor locations and venues were no longer required to verify people’s vaccine status.

Now, the county is no longer seeing those declines.

“We’re about two months out from the peak of our winter surge and have seen significant declines in our cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” L.A. County Health Director said in a statement. “However, with case numbers no longer decreasing and increases in the circulation of the more infectious BA.2 subvariant in L.A. County, now is the time for us to use the tools at hand to decrease both personal and community risk: vaccination, testing, masking and therapeutics.”

Ferrer said case rates are “leveling off” and it’s no surprise.

“At some point, we knew that it was likely we were gonna stop declining because we know that there’s still transmission. We know that there’s still people who are getting exposed,” Ferrer said during a Thursday media briefing.

But Ferrer said she wishes levels were even lower before numbers began plateauing.

L.A. County’s overall community levels remain low, and its COVID-19 case rate of 66 new cases per 100,000 people is still below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s target of less than 200 new cases per 100,000, Ferrer said.

L.A. County is now averaging about 660 new daily COVID-19 cases a week.

“I wish we were at a lower level when we’re doing this plateauing. But we have seen a significant decrease and that is the good news,” Ferrer added.

More good news: COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are still declining.

There were 308 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday. Two weeks ago, that number was closer to 500, according to the health department.

Still, BA.2, a highly-contagious omicron subvariant, has been fueling concerns that COVID-19 could climb again after weeks of declines following the winter surge.

Ferrer said residents need to be prepared for the possibility that BA.2 “could require additional interventions and mitigation.”

BA.2 has been spreading in L.A. County, where it accounted for 32% of all sequenced specimens during the week ending March 12. That’s double what it was the week before.

Since data is from specimens that were collected more than two weeks ago, and because BA.2 is more infectious than previous versions of the virus, health authorities say it probably now accounts for an even higher proportion of COVID-19 cases in L.A. County.

The increase in L.A. County mirrors trends seen across the country, with the World Health Organization announcing last week that BA.2 accounted for 86% of sequenced cases worldwide during the past month.

The health director urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted and mask up when in public.

“In a similar way that we take steps to be prepared for fires and earthquakes, we now also need to take preparedness actions that allow us to be safe during a pandemic,” Ferrer said. “And just like we don’t wait until there is a fire or an earthquake to make a plan, we don’t need to wait until we are experiencing another surge, to increase our protection.”