Hospital - Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals continued declining Wednesday, one day ahead of an anticipated update of federal numbers that could move the county out of the “high” virus activity category.

According to state figures, there were 1,105 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, down from 1,151 on Tuesday and down from 1,162 on Saturday. Of those patients, 122 were being treated in intensive care units, up slightly from 121 on Tuesday.

Health officials have been closely monitoring hospital numbers and admission rates, in hopes of moving out of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high” COVID activity category. The county narrowly missed being moved into the “medium” category last week, posting an average daily rate of new virus-related hospital admissions of 10.1 per 100,000 residents.

Moving to the “medium” category requires the rate to fall below 10 per 100,000 residents. The CDC updates its numbers every Thursday.

Hospital numbers have been steadily dropping, and county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she was confident the county will reach the “medium” category. The move from high to medium will not have any practical effect for residents, since the county opted against imposing a mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate. Health officials had indicated that the mandate would be imposed after the county spent two weeks in the high category, but they held off in light of falling hospitalization and COVID infection numbers.

Masks are still required in some settings, including health care facilities, homeless shelters, aboard transit vehicles and at transit centers, along with correctional facilities.

County officials have said that roughly 43% of the COVID-positive patients admitted to hospitals were actually admitted for virus-related illness, while the others were admitted for other reasons, with some only learning they were infected when they were tested at the hospital.

The county reported another 4,514 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,342,851. Another 19 virus-related fatalities were reported, raising the overall death toll to 32,888.

The seven-day daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 12.4% as of Wednesday.

Ferrer this week urged parents and students to take precautions against virus spread when school resumes. According to the county Department of Public Health, 9% of all COVID cases in the county over the past month were in children aged 5 to 17.

While officials conceded that children often experience only mild illness from the virus, the long-term effects of infection remain unknown, and there have been nearly 1,900 children hospitalized from the virus during the pandemic.

Ferrer said students returning to campuses should take steps to “limit spread” of the virus.

“This includes making sure that those who are sick do not come to school, those who are infected follow isolation protocols, and those with symptoms and/or exposures get tested,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “Everyone is urged to wear a mask when indoors and to continue following good hand hygiene. Students and staff should take advantage of the ample supply of vaccines to be up-to-date on their vaccinations.

“Following these sensible steps helps reduce illness and absences, lowering the risk of disruption at schools. We can also each do our part to support safety at schools by taking practical steps to reduce community transmission since, as we know too well, high case rates in the community create additional risk for spread at schools and worksites.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District will resume classes on Monday, but with loosened COVID protocols. Most notably, the district will no longer be requiring weekly surveillance testing of all students and staff. Instead, testing will only be required for those experiencing symptoms or people who have been exposed to the virus.

Masking also remains only strongly recommended indoors on LAUSD campuses. The district’s vaccine mandate for students is on hold until at least next year.

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