Home test kit
A home COVID-19 test kit. Courtesy NIH

Despite continued drops in COVID-19 cases and hospital admission rates, Los Angeles County will remain in the federal government’s “high” virus activity category for another week, with numbers recently released putting the county just high enough to prevent a move into the less-severe “medium” rank.

Under metrics developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a county is considered in a “high” activity category if its average daily rate of COVID-related hospital admissions tops 10 per 100,000 residents. The CDC updates the numbers every Thursday.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said over the past week that the hospital admission number was trending downward, and indicated the county could be moved into the “medium” category. She said numbers posted by the CDC on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were all low enough to warrant the move to “medium.”

But on Thursday, CDC figures put the county’s COVID-admission rate at 10.1 per 100,000 residents, slightly above the threshold for “high” virus activity.

“While this is disappointing, given that the county- and CDC-calculated hospital admission rate has been at or below 10 for the last few days, we do remain hopeful that this number can be adjusted soon so that the county will be officially moved into the `medium’ community level,” Ferrer said in an online media briefing Thursday.

The county remaining in the “high” virus-activity level has no practical impact for residents. The county had previously announced plans to re-impose an indoor mask-wearing mandate if the county remained in the “high” category for two consecutive weeks. But Ferrer announced last week that in light of declining case and hospitalization numbers, the county would delay such a move.

Mask-wearing indoors remains only “strongly recommended” by the county, although it is still required in select settings, such as aboard transit vehicles, in airports, in health care settings, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.

Ferrer said Thursday the downward trend in COVID infections was continuing, with 4,930 new cases reported. She said over the past week, an average of 4,900 cases were reported per day, down from 5,900 the previous week.

Average daily hospitalizations numbers have also “plateaued,” she said. As of Thursday, a total of 1,254 COVID-positive patients were reported in county hospitals, down from 1,273 the previous day.

The number of virus-related deaths was still concerning, with 22 new fatalities reported on Thursday. According to Ferrer, an average of 17 deaths per day were reported over the past week, an increase from 15 the previous week.

She noted that deaths tend to be a lagging factor, occurring on the heels of increases in cases and hospitalizations, so the recent downward trends in those metrics will hopefully drive down fatality numbers.

The new infections reported Thursday gave the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 3,320,781. The 22 deaths lifted the overall death toll to 32,807.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 13.9% as of Thursday.

Meanwhile, the county on Wednesday began offering doses of the recently approved Novavax COVID-19 vaccine. Ferrer said the vaccine is a more traditional protein-based shot, rather than the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. She told the Board of Supervisors this week she hoped the introduction of a more traditional vaccine might convince those who were hesitant to receive the Pfizer or Moderna shots to get vaccinated.

County locations offering the Novavax shots can be found on the website vaccinatelacounty.com.

Residents can also contact their health care provider to see if it offers Novavax.

Residents 18 years and older can get the Novavax vaccine, which is a two-dose primary series, with the second dose administered three weeks after the first. Boosters are not recommended, and the Novavax vaccine is not authorized for children 17 and younger.

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