COVID-19 warning sign
A COVID-19 warning sign in Los Angeles County. Courtesy of the county

Eyebrow-raising increases in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continued Thursday, with Los Angeles County reporting more than 800 new cases, hospital patient numbers topping 300 and the rate of people testing positive for the virus doubling from last week.

The 839 new cases reported by the county on Thursday represented a 165% increase from the daily number reported a week ago, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. The rate of people testing positive for the virus rose to 2.5% — still a low number but more than double the 1.2% rate of a week ago.

The rolling average number of daily new infections in the county rose to 3.47 per 100,000 residents as of Thursday, roughly double the 1.74 per 100,000 rate of last week.

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.

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.

The rising numbers continue to impact the county’s Black residents at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups, correlating with dramatically lagging vaccination rates in the Black community.

Ferrer said that from the end of May to the end of June, the rate of new infections among Black residents grew from 38 per 100,000 residents to 65 per 100,000. All other ethnic groups saw increases during that time, but at a far lower rate. At the end of June, the rate of hospitalizations among Black residents was 9.3 per 100,000 residents, compared to 2.7 for white residents and 5.4 for Latino residents.

“These rising case rates … and disproportionately increasing case rates among Black and Latinx residents are concerning and they do require targeted action to prevent bad outcomes among those who have already, frankly, suffered the most,” Ferrer said. “Slowing transmission back down is our best protection against viral mutations that create more dangerous variants.”

Ferrer said the numbers all point to continuing spread of the highly infectious “Delta” variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India and is now the dominate factor in cases domestically. The “Delta” variant was detected in more than half of the case samples sequenced in the county during the last week of June.

While COVID vaccinations have been shown to provide strong protection against the variant, Ferrer said it is a major threat to the county’s roughly 4 million unvaccinated residents, including the 1.3 million children still ineligible to get the vaccine.

“When you see this, you know, first what was a doubling of cases in one week and now obviously a tripling of cases this week just with this one day, it is important for us to recognize that between the case numbers increasing significantly and the test-positivity increasing significantly over a very short period of time, we have increased transmission,” Ferrer said.

She said the numbers “for sure” reflect increased circulation of the “Delta” variant, and with millions of people still not vaccinated, “the numbers are staggering in terms of people who are at risk of being able to get infected.”

Combining the large number of unvaccinated residents with the lifting of COVID health restrictions on gatherings and indoor capacity, Ferrer said there are far more opportunities for those residents to become infected.

She said people who are unvaccinated should be adhering to infection-control measures, such as mask-wearing indoors and proper hygiene. But she said getting vaccinated is clearly the most effective way to prevent infection.

“In many ways, COVID-19 has become a vaccine-preventable disease, so the first line of defense for everybody 12 and over is to build your confidence in this vaccine, get good information and come in as soon as possible to get vaccinated,” she said.

Among county residents aged 16 and older, 69% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 60% are fully vaccinated. The rate among Black residents, however, is only 45% with at least one dose, compared to 54% for Latino residents, 65% for white residents and 76% for Asians. Vaccination rates continue to be especially low among younger Black residents, with only 28% of those aged 18-29 vaccinated.

In hopes of encouraging more people to get vaccinated, the county is continuing to offer incentives. From Friday to next 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 seven concert ticket prizes, including box seats at the Hollywood Bowl and tickets to Staples Center concerts including Celine Dion, Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and Dan+Shay.

The new cases reported by the county Thursday lifted the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,254,354. The county also reported another 11 deaths, raising the total to 24,525.

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