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COVID Test - Photo courtesy of Noiel on Shutterstock

Los Angeles County reported nearly 7,000 new COVID-19 infections over the holiday weekend and Tuesday, along with 39 more virus-related deaths.

The county Department of Public Health logged 3,257 infections on Saturday, 1,932 Sunday, 1,137 Monday and 668 Tuesday. The new cases gave the county an official total from throughout the pandemic of 3,622,250.

Daily official case numbers are believed to be an undercount of actual infections, since many people rely on at-home tests without reporting the results, and many others don’t test at all.

The 39 new deaths reported from the four-day period lifted the county’s cumulative death toll to 34,599.

The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 14.5% as of Tuesday, up from 11.3% a week ago.

Updated virus-related hospitalization figures were not immediately available. As of Saturday, there were 1,220 COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals, with 153 of them being treated in intensive care units.

Health officials have estimated that roughly 40% of patients with the virus were admitted for actual COVID-related ailments, while others were hospitalized for other reasons, with many only learning they were infected upon admission.

Although case numbers have been falling in recent weeks, county health officials warned last week that “death rates … continue to climb in Los Angeles County, especially among older people.”

County officials noted that the 39 new deaths reported Tuesday are likely an undercount due to lags in reporting from the holiday weekend.

“Public Health officials are concerned that traveling and gathering during the holidays will result in increased transmission and severe illness which would place greater stress on the county’s hospitals and health care system,” health officials said in a statement Friday.

County officials urged residents to exercise caution during the holiday season and “layer” protections to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“To help protect older people and people who are immuno-compromised or have underlying health conditions in your family, at your jobs, and in the community, Los Angeles County residents should continue to mask when indoors and follow other health measures,” according to the health department.

Last Thursday, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county over the past week averaged about 2,600 new COVID infections per day, a roughly 12% decline from 3,000 per day the previous week. Despite the decline, she stressed that “transmission does remain elevated” in the county, noting again that the official case numbers are an undercount.

The county last week moved from the “high” COVID activity category to the “medium” category, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The move did not have any impact on public health restrictions, although it decreased the likelihood of the county re-imposing an indoor mask-wearing mandate, which Ferrer previously said could be done if case rates and hospitalization numbers continued to increase.

Ferrer warned Thursday, however, that given continued high transmission, “if the case rate increases even a little bit, we would again be moved into `high.”’

“It is possible L.A. County will continue to move back and forth between `medium’ and `high’ for the next few weeks,” she said.

Mask wearing continues to be “strongly recommended” by the county at indoor public settings. But Ferrer said that even absent a mandate, residents should start wearing them, given the elevated rate of transmission.

Masks are still required indoors at health-care and congregate-care facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and at businesses where they are required by the owner.

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