The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals declined slightly Sunday, after surging past 700 Saturday amid signs of a winter spike in COVID cases.
There are 698 COVID patients at county hospitals, down from 707 on Saturday, according to the latest state figures. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care is 179, down from 182 a day earlier.
The county confirmed its seventh known case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on Saturday.
The fully vaccinated patient recently traveled somewhere in the United States, had mild symptoms and is self-isolating, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“Public Health has identified close contacts in Los Angeles County, some of whom have tested negative, and others are awaiting test results,” officials said. “Additionally, close contacts have been identified outside of the county that are being tested.”
The Omicron cases underscore the critical need for safety measures while traveling, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
“All indications are that among those fully vaccinated, illness severity if infected with Omicron is mild, reminding us that all eligible residents need to urgently get vaccinated or boosted,” she said. “The vaccines are likely to provide much needed protection against serious illness caused by Omicron and are already known to provide protection against infection and disease associated with the Delta variant that continues to dominate across the County.”
The Omicron variant has been deemed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization and the CDC. However, it remains unclear if the variant is more easily transmitted or can cause more severe illness. The previously identified Delta variant — blamed for the most recent surge in cases nationwide — remains the dominant mutation in circulation, representing more than 99% of all COVID specimens that have undergone genetic testing in the county, Ferrer said this week.
Also Saturday, officials reported 1,834 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 additional deaths associated with the virus, bringing the county’s cumulative totals to 1,545,583 cases and 27,325 deaths since the pandemic began.
The county’s average daily rate of new infections rose to 13 per 100,000 residents this week, up from 8 per 100,000 residents a week ago. The seven-day cumulative rate of infections rose to 113 per 100,000, moving the county back into the category of “high” transmission as defined by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The county was previously in the less-severe “substantial” transmission category. That category requires a county to have a cumulative seven-day transmission rate of less than 100 cases per 100,000 residents.
Ferrer said Thursday the county is seeing increases in COVID infections following the Thanksgiving holiday, potentially marking the beginning of a feared winter surge in cases. She said that on Dec. 1, the county’s seven-day average daily number of new cases topped 1,000 — a 19% increase from the previous week.
But Ferrer acknowledged that with the widespread availability of vaccines and the benefit of more experience preventing and treating infections, the county can be considered “much better off” than it was ahead of last winter’s surge, which threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
“I don’t want to downplay the fact that we continue to now be back in what the CDC classifies as the tier of `high’ transmission,” she said. “So we have a lot of community transmission going on. And when you have a lot of community transmission going on and there’s lots and lots of opportunities of people intermingling, you run the risk of these numbers just continuing to grow. And every time they grow and we see more and more cases, we all know it results unfortunately in a higher number of people that will end up in the hospital and tragically pass away.”
According to the most recent figures, 83% of county residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 75% are fully vaccinated. Of all eligible residents aged 5 and over, 77% have received at least one dose, and 69% are fully vaccinated.
Of the more than 6.15 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 84,931 have tested positive, or about 1.38%. A total of 2,798 vaccinated people have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.046%, and 537 have died, for a rate of 0.009%.