COVID-related hospitalizations fell below the 1,000 mark in Los Angeles County Thursday, reflecting continued drops in infection numbers, although the public health director warned that transmission of the infectious BA.5 variant of the virus remains high, necessitating personal precautions.

“We’re cognizant that the case rate is still high, well above 200 weekly cases per 100,000 people, indicating that there’s still a lot of virus circulating,” Barbara Ferrer told reporters during an online briefing. “The work that we do together to minimize spread and exposure makes a difference, particularly for those at elevated risk of poor outcomes should they become infected.”

She noted that the BA.5 variant of the virus now represents about 88% of all specially sequenced COVID-19 cases in the county, so it remains the dominant strain of the illness. She said officials are closely watching the development of new strains around the world, but so far, there do not appear to be any new variants locally threatening to spark a new surge.

“At the moment … there are no sub-variants or sub-lineages that are poised to circulate more widely in L.A. County than BA.5,” Ferrer said. “This is good news, as our recent history has linked a proliferation of new strains with increased transmissibility. As we discussed before, it is likely that all of the currently circulating sub-variants have an ability to cause repeat re-infections for those who have already had COVID.”

She also again warned that the more the virus spreads, the more the risk grows of another viral mutation developing.

According to state figures, there were 996 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Thursday, down from 1,009 on Wednesday. Of those patients, 109 were being treated in intensive care, down from 123 a day earlier.

County officials have said that 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.

The county reported another 3,379 new COVID infections on Thursday, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,371,673. The number of new COVID infections reported each day by the county is believed to be an undercount of actual virus activity, since many people use at-home tests, the results of which are not always reported to the county.

Ferrer said the county reported an average of 3,500 new cases per day over the past week, down from 3,800 a week ago.

Another 16 virus-related fatalities were also reported, giving the county an overall death toll of 32,991. Over the past seven days, the county averaged 13 deaths per day, down slightly from 14 per day the previous week.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 10.3% as of Thursday, roughly the same rate as the past week.

The county Department of Public Health urged residents Tuesday to get tested for COVID often, most notably if they have been exposed or have symptoms, before and after gatherings and when they travel. Health officials reminded residents that if they test positive, they must isolate. If they test negative but still have symptoms, they should remain at home and test again within 24 to 48 hours.

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