Line for walk-in vaccinations
A line for vaccinations in Orange County. Courtesy Orange County Health Care Agency

Los Angeles County has reported 624 new cases of COVID-19 and 22 additional deaths associated with the virus, while raising concern about the Omicron variant identified in Africa and Europe.

The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals increased from 556 Friday to 565 Sunday, according to the latest state figures. The number of those patients in intensive care rose from 153 to 155.

Of the nearly 9,370,000 individuals tested to date, 15% have tested positive for the virus, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Health officials urged residents to exercise caution during the Thanksgiving weekend to prevent holiday gatherings from becoming spreading grounds for COVID-19.

“As we all take some much-needed time to rest and gather with loved ones, please remember the risk of COVID-19 transmission continues to be substantial, and unvaccinated people continue to be at higher risk for severe health outcomes,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday. “Taking a common sense approach to the holiday can limit risks.

“Please remember to gather outdoors for as much of your Thanksgiving festivities as is feasible, get tested if you are unvaccinated or have high-risk guests and mask up when indoors if anyone attending is unvaccinated and/or high risk,” she said. “And when you’re out shopping or at community events, mask up and avoid large crowds. We wish you all a safe, healthy and happy holiday.”

The county Department of Public Health recommended that people avoid crowded or poorly ventilated areas and maintain distance from others while eating, unless everyone is fully vaccinated.

As usual, anyone who is sick or experiencing COVID symptoms should stay home and get tested, officials said.

Officials are also keeping a wary eye on the new Omicron variant detected in Africa and Europe. A top U.S. health official said Saturday that he wouldn’t be surprised if the variant was already in the United States, but so far, there are no reports of it showing up in this country.

“Although more studies are needed to determine whether the Omicron variant is more contagious, more deadly or resistant to vaccine and treatments than other COVID-19 strains, as with any variant of concern that is found in other countries, there are important steps we all need to take to protect ourselves from COVID-19 and from emerging variants of concern,” the Department of Public Health said in a Saturday statement.

Officials urged anyone at least 5 years old who has not been vaccinated to do so now and those who had their last shot six months ago to get the booster. “The vaccines are effective against the Delta variant and earlier strains of the virus, which allows us to remain hopeful that the approved vaccines will also provide some protection against Omicron.”

The statement included a reminder to the requirement to wear a mask when indoors or at large outdoor mega-events regardless of vaccination status and a recommendation to wear face masks at any crowded indoor or outdoor events.

The rolling daily average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 2.0% as of Friday.

During the previous week, 82% of county residents 12 and over had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, and 73% were fully vaccinated. Of the county’s overall population of 10.3 million people, 71% received at least one dose, and 63% were fully vaccinated.

Black residents continued to have the lowest vaccination rates, at 54%, followed by Latina/o residents at 59%, whites at 72% and Asians at 80%.

Of the roughly 5.99 million residents who were fully vaccinated as of Nov. 16, 75,249 have subsequently tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 1.26%, Ferrer said. Of the vaccinated population, 2,528 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.042%, and 422 have died, a rate of 0.007%.

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