COVID patient
Los Angeles County could soon graduate into the "low'' category for COVID-19 cases. - Photo courtesy of Halfpoint on Shutterstock

The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals increased by 62 to 889, with 102 in intensive care, up one from the previous day, according to the latest state data.

The county’s hospitalization figures have varied dramatically in recent days, dropping from 924 on Wednesday to 802 the next day, then rising back up to 889 over the next two days. No explanation has been given for the fluctuations.

Health officials have said roughly 43% of the COVID-positive patients 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.

Saturday’s numbers came one day after the county reported 3,694 new COVID infections and 20 additional deaths linked to the virus. That brings the cumulative totals to 3,396,657 cases and 33,096 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the county Department of Public Health.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 8.5% as of Friday, down from over 10% one week ago.

The county does not report COVID data on weekends.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer encouraged residents Friday to take advantage of available COVID medications if they are infected with the virus, saying they can prevent patients from becoming seriously ill.

“An important part of Public Health’s work is to partner with health care providers to make it as easy as possible to access these free medications for those that need them,” Ferrer said in a statement. “These medications are all currently available for free, whether you have insurance or not. Note that in some cases, health care providers may charge for their medical assessment.

“Anyone with COVID who has risk factors for severe disease is encouraged to always consult with their own primary health care provider first, if you have one. Your own health care provider will always know your health best. If you don’t have a health care provider, call 2-1-1.”

Last week the county expanded the availability of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine to everyone aged 12 and over, the public health officer said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an emergency use authorization this month for the vaccine in people aged 12-17, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off this week. The vaccine had previously been restricted to people aged 18 and over.

Health officials have expressed hope that the Novavax vaccine would be more widely accepted by vaccine-hesitant residents, since it is based on more traditional protein-based technology used in other medications for decades — rather than the mRNA process employed by the Pfizer and Moderna COVID shots.

Novavax is also a two-shot regimen, with the doses administered three to eight weeks apart. Booster shots are not currently recommended for those who receive the Novavax vaccine.

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