The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals fell back under 600 Saturday, bucking a trend from the past several weeks that has moved the region closer to a possible resurrection of indoor mask-wearing mandates.
According to state figures, there were 571 virus-positive patients in county hospitals as of Saturday, down 45 from Friday’s total. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 66, up three from a day earlier.
The hospitalization total had dropped as low as 209 in mid-April.
Health officials have noted that many of the COVID-positive patients were admitted to hospitals for a reason other than the virus, and many only realized they were infected when they were tested upon admission. But county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer stressed that even though patients may have been admitted for other reasons, the fact they are infected with the virus forces hospitals to take extra precautions to prevent it from spreading, adding to the strain on the health care system overall.
The county and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are keeping close watch on hospital numbers. Los Angeles County is already in the CDC’s “medium” category for virus activity. It will move into the “high” category if its average daily rate of new COVID-related hospital admissions rises above 10 per 100,000 residents, or if the percentage of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients tops 10%.
The figures have both been slowly rising over the past several weeks, with the rate of new admissions reaching 6.4 per 100,000 residents on Thursday, up from 5.2 a week ago. The portion of hospital beds in the county occupied by virus patients was 3.1% as of Thursday, up from 2.7% from a week ago.
If the county is moved into the “high” category, it will reimpose a mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate.
Health officials are already strongly recommending that people wear masks indoors. Masks are still mandatory in high-risk settings such as health-care facilities, aboard transit vehicles and in transit centers, in correctional facilities and at long-term care facilities.
The rise in hospitalizations has followed a sharp increase in the daily number of new COVID infections, driven by highly transmissible variants of the original virus. The most recent variant, BA.2, is now slowly giving way to an offshoot variant dubbed BA.2.12.1, which was detected in more than 40% of recent cases that underwent specialized testing to identify variants.
The rise has become particularly notable at schools and nursing homes, where outbreaks have been rising in recent weeks.
“This sharp increase in cases and outbreaks at (skilled nursing facilities) reflects the increase in transmission in the wider community,” Ferrer said in a statement. “When we strongly recommend universal COVID precautions, one of the reasons is because we all have a collective opportunity to protect the most vulnerable in our community, including residents in nursing homes. While hard working staff can and do take extra measures to prevent transmission at these facilities, if transmission rates are high in the surrounding community, it increases the likelihood that residents and staff will be exposed to infected individuals.
“When we mask and take other protective measures during times of rising COVID cases, we are driving down spread and thereby taking steps to protect all of our residents, including the most vulnerable at our nursing homes.”
The county on Friday reported another 6,202 COVID cases, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,025,694. Another eight virus-related fatalities were also announced, raising the overall death toll to 32,201.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 5% as of Friday.
The county health department does not report COVID data on weekends.