Los Angeles County logged more than 3,200 new COVID-19 infections Friday, Dec. 16, along with 20 new virus-related deaths.
The number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals, however, held generally steady, but at an elevated number.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told reporters Thursday that the number of available, staffed beds in county hospitals had dropped to its lowest level of the pandemic, thanks to the impact of rising flu and other respiratory illnesses in combination with COVID, exacerbated by limited hospital staffing.
As of Friday, there were 1,261 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals, up slightly from 1,256 on Thursday. Of those patients, 126 were being treated in intensive care units, down from 131 a day earlier. The 3,257 new infections reported by the county Friday lifted the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,598,453. Health officials have repeatedly stressed that the number of new cases reported each day is an undercount, due to people’s use of at-home tests, and the number of residents who don’t test at all.
The 20 additional fatalities reported Friday gave the county an overall virus-related death toll of 34,410. On Thursday, Dec. 15, Ferrer reported the county’s 20th pediatric virus-related death. The vast majority of people who have died from the virus had underlying health issues. As of Friday, the seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus in the county was 10.9%.
Ferrer reported noticeable drops in daily case numbers and hospital admissions, although daily death numbers had doubled from two weeks ago. On Friday, she again urged residents to exercise caution during the upcoming holiday season, and to be sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations and booster shots.
“We have the strategies, information and resources to celebrate in- person with friends and family in a safe way,” Ferrer said in a statement. “I hope that over the next few weeks, everyone can use this information to keep each other protected. Simple efforts can lead to big returns, and this works best when people come together and act collectively. We all have a role to play to reduce COVID-19 transmission and I appreciate the inspiring efforts I have witnessed in the community. Your actions have personal impact, and also impact the people around you.”
Health officials are continuing to closely monitor hospital data, as they consider a possible return to a universal mask mandate. The county remains in the “high” COVID activity category, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with an average daily new case rate of 204 per 100,000 residents. The county could fall back to the “medium” category if that number falls back below 200 per 100,000 residents.
Ferrer has said the county would reinstitute a mask-wearing mandate if the county is in the “high” category and meets two hospital thresholds:
— if the rate of daily hospital admissions tops 10 per 100,000 residents; and
— if the percent of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID patients tops 10%.
The county’s daily hospital admission rate is 14 per 100,000, while the percent of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID patients was 7.2%.
Mask wearing continues to be “strongly recommended” by the county at indoor public settings. But Ferrer said that even absent a mandate, residents should start wearing them, given the elevated rate of transmission. Masks are still required indoors at health-care and congregate-care facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and at businesses where they are required by the owner.