Los Angeles County reported nearly 2,200 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, along with 21 new virus-related deaths.

The new fatalities gave the county an overall pandemic death toll of 34,492. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week she feared death numbers could increase in the coming weeks due to a recent increase in hospital patients infected with the virus.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,251 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals, according to the state, up from 1,229 on Saturday.

The 2,186 new infections reported Tuesday gave the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 3,606,007.

Health officials have stressed that the number of COVID infections reported each day is actually an undercount, due to the number of people who use at-home tests or don’t test at all.

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 Tuesday, the seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus in the county was 10.9%, roughly the same as a week ago.

Health officials are continuing to closely monitor COVID hospital data, as they consider a possible return to a universal mask mandate.

As of Thursday, the county remained 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 previously 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 was 14 per 100,000 as of Thursday, 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.

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