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Highly Contagious But Less Dangerous Omicron Variant Taking Hold

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By Jorge Casuso

January 10, 2023 -- County Health officials on Tuesday "strongly" recommended that students and workers returning from the holidays get tested for COVID and wear a mask for ten days.

The recommendation comes amid the rapid spread of a highly contagious variant that according to leading health experts appears to be no more serious or deadly than previous strains.

The new variant -- unofficially nicknamed “Kraken” -- is not as susceptible to natural immunity or vaccines and can therefore infect people multiple times, health experts said.

"There is currently no evidence to suggest that XBB.1.5 causes more or less severe disease or different symptoms, compared with previous Omicron subvariants," said a report published Tuesday in Scientific American.

County Health officials are expecting to see an increases in XBB.1.5, which is responsible for about 40 percent of cases nationwide and an estimated 9 percent of COVID cases in California, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

"An increase in infection rates would disproportionately affect people over 50 and people with preexisting medical conditions or who are immunocompromised," County officials said.

As of Tuesday, Los Angeles County remained in the Medium Community Level, based on its case and hospitalization rates.

Coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County decreased last week, from a seven-day average of 2,359 two weeks ago to 2,111, an 11 percent drop.

The average number of daily COVID-positive patients in LA County hospitals also dipped over the past seven days, from 1,247 patients to 1,207, according to County Health data.

Meanwhile coronavirus-related deaths, which take about two weeks to report, rose from an average of 16 deaths per day two weeks ago to 20 deaths per day last week.

In Santa Monica, no virus-related deaths were reported last week following 5 reported deaths over the previous two weeks.

There were 128 new cases confirmed in the city last week, bringing to 25,663 the total number of cases confirmed since the first cases was reported in March 2020.

There have been a total of 287 COVID-related deaths in the city of some 93,000.

In LA County, there have been a total of 3,653,463 confirmed cases and 34,888 virus-related deaths among a population of more than 10 million, according to County data.

Health officials say the number of confirmed cases could be a significant under-count since an increasing number of tests are conducted at home and may not be reliably reported to health agencies.

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