As Los Angeles County experiences slow but steady increases in COVID-19 infections, the number of people hospitalized in the county due to the virus rose back above 300 Thursday.

According to state figures, there were 320 COVID patients in L.A. County hospitals as of Thursday. On June 16, there were 220 people hospitalized in the county.

While the current number is still far below the winter-surge levels of about 8,000 hospitalizations and medical centers are in no immediate danger of being overwhelmed, patient numbers have been steadily increasing since mid-June.

Health officials have said people being hospitalized due to COVID are overwhelmingly unvaccinated, with Black residents — who have the lowest rates of vaccination in the county — most likely to wind up becoming seriously ill.

There were 79 people in intensive care beds due to COVID in the county as of Thursday, up from 71 on Wednesday, according to state figures. The state numbers are generally one day ahead of those reported daily by the county Department of Public Health.

In addition to rising hospitalization numbers, the county has also been reporting increased numbers of daily COVID infections — topping 600 on Saturday, roughly triple the numbers being reported in mid-June. The county on Wednesday reported another 515 cases, bringing the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,253,536.

There has also been a slow but steady rise in the rate of people testing positive for the virus. The current seven-day average testing-positivity rate in the county is 1.23%. Although still remarkably low, the rate is four times the 0.3% rate reported a month ago.

COVID-19 deaths have remained relatively low, with just eight new fatalities reported Wednesday, raising the overall death toll to 24,514. Throughout the pandemic, deaths have tended to rise in the weeks following surges in hospitalizations.

Health officials have said the county’s recent increases in daily infections and testing-positivity are being fueled by the rise in COVID-19 variants, particularly the highly contagious “Delta” variant. They added that with 4 million residents in L.A. County still unvaccinated — including 1.3 million children who aren’t eligible for shots — there is enough risk for the variant to pose a significant threat.

“Delta” has also become California’s most identified strain of the coronavirus, accounting for 35.6% of the variants analyzed in June, a steep increase from May, when the number was just 5.6%, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Ferrer said last week 245 cases of the “Delta” variant have been confirmed in the county, nearly double the number from the previous week. The county conducts only limited sequencing tests needed to identify the variants, so the number cannot be extrapolated across the population, but “Delta” has become the most dominant variant detected in the county.

As of last week, more than 10.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the county. The latest numbers show that 59% of residents age 16 or older are fully vaccinated, while 68% have received at least one dose. The numbers are higher among seniors, with 76% of people 65 and older fully vaccinated, and 87% with at least one dose.

The weekly pace of vaccinations, however, has slowed from a winter/spring high of about 500,000 doses per week in the county to now less than 60,000. At the current pace of vaccinations, it will be October before the county meets the goal of getting 80% of the population aged 16 and older vaccinated with at least one dose.

Vaccinations continue to lag among the Black community, which is also bearing the brunt of new COVID infections and hospitalizations. As of July 2, 44.7% of the county’s Black residents aged 16 and up have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That compares to 75.5% of Asian residents, 65.3% of white residents and 54.2% of Latinx residents.

In hopes of encouraging more people to get vaccinated, the county is continuing to offer incentives. Continuing until Thursday, anyone who gets vaccinated at sites operated by the county, the city of Los Angeles or St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a chance to win one of four ticket packages for the Huntington Library, Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles County Arboretum and South Coast Botanic Garden. The packages include an annual membership to the Huntington and one-day passes to the other facilities.

The county Department of Public Health on Wednesday urged residents to consider taking part in its COVID-19 Community Ambassador Program, an effort to “actively engage the broader community in best practices to further prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County.”

“We must continue to work together to improve vaccine confidence and acceptance so that vaccination rates increase, and we reach a level of community immunity that protects everyone,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “We are grateful for all the residents participating in the COVID-19 Ambassador Program who provide accurate information to their friends and co-workers on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As COVID-19 transmission has increased over the past couple of weeks, it is very important we continue to work together to protect each other and make sure that individuals with questions about the vaccine, have access to information about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness from people they trust.”

To date, nearly 3,000 residents have completed the training in the Ambassador program. Information on the program is available at publichealth.lacounty.gov/CommunityAmbassadorProgram/.

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