The coronavirus
The coronavirus is pictured in this electron microscope image. Courtesy NIH

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed its youngest victim in Los Angeles County, with health officials confirming Wednesday that a 15-month-old child was among 91 newly reported deaths from the virus.

Details about the 15-month-old child were not released by the county Department of Public Health, but the agency confirmed the child is the “youngest resident to die of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and a stark reminder that the virus can cause devastating outcomes among those most vulnerable, including young children not yet eligible for vaccinations.”

The 91 total new deaths reported Wednesday is among the highest daily totals reported in the past year, raising the county’s overall virus death toll to 28,630.

The county also confirmed 20,866 new COVID cases on Wednesday, bringing the cumulative pandemic total to 2,560,768. Wednesday marked the two-year anniversary of the county’s first confirmed COVID case.

According to state figures, there were 4,534 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, down from 4,554 on Tuesday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 780, a slight drop from 785 a day earlier.

The rolling daily average of people testing positive for the virus in the county was 13.6% as of Wednesday.

Health officials noted that the positivity rate is noticeably lower in schools. For the week that ended Sunday, testing of students and school staff across the county was at 7%, one-third lower than the previous week.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which represents the bulk of school COVID testing in the county, reported late Wednesday that students were testing positive for the virus at an average rate of 8.1% over the past week, while the positivity rate for school staff was 5%.

The district also reported an improving attendance rate among students, at 83.4% as of Wednesday. On Jan. 13, the attendance rate at LAUSD was 66.8%.

The LAUSD this week tightened its mask-wearing requirement for students, mandating that they wear upgraded surgical-grade or N95-type masks, rather than cloth ones. The district has also extended through February its mandated weekly testing for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.

“Prioritizing and ensuring safety at schools during a surge is only possible if all those at the school commit to complying fully with public health measures. This cannot be accomplished by staff alone,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Wearing a high-grade face mask both indoors and outdoors when around others is absolutely essential for staff and highly recommended for students, as all evidence points to the effectiveness of well-fitting high-quality masks in limiting spread of virus particles.

“Frequent testing can help identify asymptomatic individuals before they have a lot of opportunities to transmit to others, so parents are urged to allow their children to participate in school testing programs. And everyone infected and exposed will need to follow the school-based isolation and quarantine rules that are meant to reduce school outbreaks. Without everyone working together to minimize exposures, there could be more disruptions affecting school communities across the county.”

According to the county, 11 new school outbreaks were reported between Jan. 16-22, an increase from the prior week but still “relatively low” given the large number of cases occurring in the county at large.

The Department of Public Health plans to distribute another 1 million at-home COVID test kits to school districts over the next two weeks to facilitate easy access to testing.

Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday that daily COVID case numbers and the testing-positivity rate have been trending downward, indicating the county has “passed the peak” of the Omicron-variant-fueled surge of cases. But she warned that transmission remains high, and precautions still need to be taken.

She said the seven-day average rate of new cases in the county was about 310 per 100,000 residents as of Monday, down from 380 per 100,000 residents a week ago. The testing-positivity rate has fallen from about 17% a week ago to roughly 14% this week.

But she said the county is still averaging about 32,000 new cases per day, and roughly one of every seven people who gets tested for the virus turns up positive.

According to the county, 81% of eligible county residents aged 5 and above have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 72% are fully vaccinated. Only 32% are fully vaccinated with a booster shot. Of the county’s overall 10.3 million population, 77% have received one dose, 69% are fully vaccinated, and 30% are vaccinated and boosted.

The vaccination rate among children aged 5-11 remains low, with only 30% having received at least one dose, and only 20% are fully vaccinated. Ferrer said the low vaccination rate among children “creates significant vulnerability for spread” of the virus.

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