Los Angeles County reported 839 new cases of COVID-19 and 40 additional deaths Saturday, along with another slight drop in coronavirus hospitalizations.
The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals dropped from 596 Friday to 590, according to state figures. The number of those patients in intensive care dropped by one to 158.
Saturday's numbers brought the county's totals to 1,221,605 cases and 23,274 fatalities since the pandemic began.
Of the 40 new deaths, eight people were over the age of 80, 20 people were between 65 and 79, seven were between 50 and 64, three were between 30 and 49, and one person who died was between 18 and 29, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
One death was reported by the city of Long Beach.
The health department also continues tracking cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and has identified 158 children with MIS-C in L.A. County including one child death. All 158 were hospitalized and 40% of the children were treated in the ICU.
MIS-C is a serious inflammatory condition associated with COVID-19 that affects children under 21 years old. Symptoms include fever that does not go away and inflamed body parts, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.
Amid declining overall COVID-19 numbers, county health officials continue to urge residents to take precautions, acknowledging what could be seen as mixed messaging about the state of the pandemic.
"The declining number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is a very encouraging trend and reflects the significant decrease in community transmission we experienced a few weeks back,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday. ``We will continue to make progress slowing transmission, preventing suffering, and saving lives when we all do our part to keep each other safe by following the rules and getting vaccinated when it is our turn. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, recently traveled out of state, were in crowds in close proximity to unmasked individuals, or attended large gatherings, please get tested. Don't take a chance on spreading this virus to others.''
The county's chief health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, told reporters Friday he understands that people might get confused as they are bombarded with updates about the virus -- the success of vaccines, plans for more business reopenings, the threat of COVID virus variants and continued pleas for mask-wearing and social distancing -- but he said ``that's the way things go in terms of a new virus."
"We're learning as we go and we're adjusting as we go as well," he said. "... We look for people to stay abreast and help work with us on the restrictions or lack of restrictions."
Los Angeles County on Wednesday officially entered the orange tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Loosened business restrictions that come with that move will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday. That will mean more capacity at many businesses and reopening of some indoor activities. But Davis again preached the need for caution.
"Our numbers have improved dramatically but we cannot let up," he said. "With the beautiful weather, the spring holidays, UCLA in the Final Four and baseball season starting, there are plenty of reasons to get together with friends. We ask that you avoid taking unnecessary risk, avoid large gatherings and wear your mask when you're in public and around others and please continue washing your hands."
Although most orange-tier rules won't take effect until Monday, Davis said rules for theme parks and outdoor live event venues -- such as Dodger Stadium -- went into effect Thursday. Those rules allowed theme parks to open at 25% capacity, and outdoor venues to open at 33% capacity.
The rest of the county's orange tier health orders will largely align with state guidelines, but there will be some stricter requirements. Most notably, bars that don't serve food -- which are being permitted to reopen outdoors only -- will only be able to operate from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a required 8-foot distance between outdoor tables.
Although state guidelines allow a lifting of all capacity restrictions on retail establishments in the orange tier, Los Angeles County will impose a 75% limit for grocery stores and other retail operations, while "strongly" recommending they remain at 50% capacity until April 15 to allow time for more workers to get vaccinated.
In accordance with state guidelines, the county will raise the capacity limit from 25% to 50% for movie theaters, churches, museums, zoos, aquariums and restaurants. Fitness center capacity will be increased from 10% to 25%. Card rooms and family entertainment centers can resume indoor operations at 25% capacity.
Breweries and wineries will be able to offer indoor service at 25% capacity. Breweries, wineries, bars and restaurants will all be allowed to turn on their television sets outdoors, but live entertainment remains prohibited.
Long Beach, which has its own health department, parted ways with the county and immediately moved to orange-tier rules on Wednesday. The city generally aligned with the state's guidelines, including the elimination of capacity limits at retail stores.
Pasadena, which also has its own health department, plans to follow the county's lead and wait until Monday before changing its restrictions.
Californians age 50 and older became eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday -- adding about 1.4 million Los Angeles County residents to the pool of people trying to get appointments. There are about 2 million people in the county total in that group, but about 600,000 are believed to have previously been vaccinated as part of another eligible category.
On April 15, everyone aged 16 and up becomes eligible for the shots. That group includes an estimated 5 million people. The county's chief science officer, Dr. Paul Simon, said Friday that only about 16% of residents aged 16-29 have been vaccinated already, and about 26% of those aged 30-49, meaning there will be a major jump in demand for appointments on the 15th.
"We do urge patience among all out there who are understandably extremely eager to be vaccinated," he said.
For the second week in a row, the county next week is expected to set another record in terms of its vaccine allocation, with 397,430 doses expected. That includes 118,000 Johnson & Johnson single-shot doses.
Of the overall allotment, 72% will be used for first doses and 28% for second doses, Simon said.