The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals surged past 600 on Saturday, amid concern over another possible autumn and winter surge in infections and the presence of the new omicron variant in Los Angeles County.
There were 610 COVID patients at county hospitals as of Saturday, up from 572 on Friday, according to the latest state figures. Of those, 146 were in intensive care, up just one from Friday.
The county also reported 20 new COVID deaths and 2,307 new COVID cases on Saturday.
The county on Friday reported 1,942 new cases of COVID-19 and 17 additional deaths associated with the virus, raising its cumulative totals to 1,532,430 cases and 27,225 fatalities since the pandemic began.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 1% as of Friday.
Meanwhile, a rapid-testing site opened at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday to offer free -- but voluntary -- COVID tests for arriving international passengers.
The COVID testing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal is being offered strictly on a voluntary basis, since there is no federal requirement for inbound passengers to be tested.
"The federal government is highly recommending that people get tested," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday. "We will have our health workers out there as well, talking to people, making sure they understand the importance of testing. We are using a rapid antigen test there, so people will be able to get their results before they leave the airport."
She added that anyone who tests negative will be given a take-home test kit so they can test themselves again three to five days later.
Health officials are making a renewed call for people to get tested for COVID if they develop any symptoms, and also to do so if they traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday either overseas or to states with high rates of virus transmission.
"As we enter winter and face the omicron variant, using what we have learned over the past two years will make a big difference for friends and families preparing to gather for the holidays and those most at-risk," Ferrer said in a statement Friday. "We are grateful to our partners for the encouraging trends, as at least 80% of people experiencing homelessness have received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and appreciate the continued efforts to improve coverage."
The county Department of Public Health on Friday reported another drop in the rate of infections among the homeless, with only 44 new cases for the week ending Nov. 14, compared to 63 the week of Oct. 11.
Just hours after announcing plans for the airport testing facility Thursday, the county confirmed the first local case of the omicron variant, which was designated a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization last week, and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.
The variant was first detected in South Africa, and it has now spread to dozens of other countries, and multiple. U.S. states. The first U.S. case was confirmed Wednesday in San Francisco.
The local omicron patient confirmed late Thursday afternoon is a Los Angeles County resident who returned to the area Nov. 22 after traveling to South Africa via London. The infection was deemed to be "most likely travel related." The unidentified patient is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and has symptoms that are improving, health officials said. The person's close contacts have all tested negative for the virus.
It is still unclear if the variant is more highly transmissible than other forms of the virus, or if it causes more severe illness or can evade the protection offered by current vaccines. But its rapid spread in South Africa has raised alarms, particularly ahead of the winter holiday season and accompanying travel and gatherings.
According to the latest county figures, of the more than 6.1 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 80,445 have tested positive, or about 1.32%. A total of 2,680 vaccinated people have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.044%, and 503 have died, for a rate of 0.008%.
So far, 83% of county residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 74% are fully vaccinated. Of all eligible residents aged 5 and over, 76% have received at least one dose, and 68% are fully vaccinated.
Black residents continue to have the lowest rate of vaccination, with just 55% having received at least one dose. The rate is 60% among Latino/a residents, 73% among white residents and 82% among Asians.