Nurse treats COVID-19 patient in ICU
A nurse treats a coronavirus patient in an ICU. Image from Scripps Health video

The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals dropped sharply, while the county logged nearly 1,400 new infections and 21 new virus-related deaths in its latest data.

According to state figures, there were 1,101 virus-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, down from 1,202 on Saturday. Of those patients, 136 were being treated in intensive care units, down slightly from 139 on Saturday.

The 1,383 new cases reported by the county Tuesday raised the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 3,653,463.

Official case numbers are believed to be undercounts of actual virus infections in the county due to the number of people who rely on at-home tests without reporting the results to the county, and the people who don’t test at all.

The county reported 21 new virus-related deaths Tuesday, lifting the death toll to 34,888.

The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 9% as of Tuesday, down from 11.4% a week ago.

L.A. County remains in the federal government’s “medium” transmission range. 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. Otherwise, they are only strongly recommended at indoor settings.

Health officials have been urging school students and staff and other workers to test for COVID-19 before returning to campuses and workplaces following the holidays, and to wear a mask for 10 days to help prevent virus spread.

County health officials pointed to the rise of a new virus strain known as XBB.1.5, which is believed to be responsible for 40% of new cases nationally and 9% in California. The rising trend is expected to be reflected soon among Los Angeles County cases, officials said.

“With XBB.1.5 rising across the country, I want you to be aware that very soon we could see the new strain become more dominant here in L.A. County,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement last week. “I hope everyone will take action to help minimize the impact, especially knowing it will be felt most by those vulnerable to severe illness. Every day I see examples of how people in L.A. County care for others and this is one more way to do so. We have learned a lot over the past few years and it is important that we all put the knowledge to use to help protect our community.”

COVID infection rates in the county have been declining in recent weeks, but health officials noted that a “significant number” of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still being reported regularly.

The seven-day average daily case count was 2,111 as of Friday, down about 11% from the previous week. The average daily number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals was 1,247 as of Friday, up from 1,207 the previous week. The county is also reporting an average of 20 virus-related deaths per day, up from 16 a week earlier.

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