Los Angeles County set another daily record Sunday with 45,584 positive COVID-19 tests, continuing a winter surge in transmission driven by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
On Friday, health officials reported a then-record 43,712 new infections, and on Saturday they said the county had seen more than 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, the highest number in one week since the beginning of the pandemic.
The record numbers seem driven in part by increased testing. The county’s rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 20.6%, up from 20.4% on Saturday, but down from 22.7% last Monday. Overall, 10,317,000 individuals have been tested, with 18% of people testing positive to date, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The department also reported an additional 13 deaths associated with the virus Sunday, bringing the county’s cumulative totals to 1,967,443 cases and 27,785 fatalities since the pandemic began. The deaths may reflect an undercount in weekend reporting.
Officials are urging residents to reconsider attending high-risk activities, including indoor activities where individuals are unmasked for long periods of time, and crowded outdoor events.
“As the surge continues, we ask residents and businesses to continue following the public health safety measures that we know reduce spread and keep people safe,” Ferrer said. “This includes wearing a medical grade mask that is more protective against the Omicron variant and not spending time around others who are unmasked. These upgraded masks can be a surgical mask or an N95 or KN95 respirator mask.”
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals climbed to 3,364, according to the latest state figures. The number of those patients in intensive care Sunday was 435 — up from 411 Saturday, 391 Friday and 352 Thursday. Many of the COVID-positive patients entered the hospital for another reason and only discovered they had the coronavirus after a mandated test, according to local officials. And while still well short of the peak hospitalization numbers seen last winter — when more than 8,000 COVID-positive patients filled hospitals — the rising number is still generating concern. Health care facilities are finding themselves increasingly short-staffed, in part because of COVID infections among health care workers.
According to the county health department, 973 infections among health care workers were reported over the past week, a jump of 47% from the prior period. That rise comes despite the relatively high rate of vaccinations among health care workers — showing the power of the Omicron variant of the virus to infect even vaccinated residents, although they are less likely to become severely ill.
The state is requiring all healthcare workers in the state to receive a booster dose of vaccine by Feb. 1. Those who do not receive the booster must be tested twice weekly.
“Keeping healthcare workers safe is critical to maintaining functionality across our health care facilities when surges lead to staffing shortages and rising rates of hospitalizations,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Across multiple health care settings, our healthcare personnel have given their all and been fully vaccinated at high levels for many months. Every resident can also do their part to protect our healthcare personnel and hospitals. Please get vaccinated or boosted as soon as possible if eligible.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday unveiled a proposed $2.7 billion COVID- 19 emergency response package as part of his next budget proposal, including a $1.4 billion emergency appropriation request to bolster testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers, strengthen the health care system and “battle misinformation.”
On Friday, Newsom announced the activation the California National Guard to help provide additional testing facilities and capacity amid the national surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant. The announcement comes as Omicron continues to spread rapidly across the globe, accounting for at least 80% of COVID-19 cases in California.
Surging infection numbers have prompted L.A. County to amend its public health order, requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others. The order will take effect Jan. 17 and requires employers to provide affected workers with “well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks, or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks.”
The revised order also amended the definition of outdoor “mega events,” where masking is required, to 5,000 or more attendees; and the definition of indoor “mega” events to 500 or more people. The numbers align with those in the state’s health order. The county’s order also “recommends” that food and drink be consumed only in designated dining areas.
The upgraded mask requirement for county workplaces mirrors an order released by the county for K-12 schools, requiring teachers and staff to wear higher-grade face coverings. USC announced this week it will require all students and staff to wear higher-grade masks when in-person classes resume.