Daily COVID-19 case numbers continued tumbling Tuesday in Los Angeles County, but the death toll climbed above the 17,000 mark, with more than 200 new fatalities.
The county Department of Public Health announced 205 virus deaths on Tuesday, raising the countywide cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 17,057. Health officials noted that more than 7,000 COVID deaths have been reported over the past month, matching the total number of virus deaths that occurred between February and October of last year.
But while fatalities mounted in response to the winter surge of cases that began in November, the number of newly confirmed infections continued to fall. The county announced 3,763 new infections on Tuesday, down substantially from the early January totals that regularly topped 10,000.
Hospitalizations also continued a steady downward trend, with state figures showing a total of 5,165 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID, including 1,371 in intensive care. According to the county Department of Public Health, there were 830 available hospital beds as of Tuesday morning at the area's 70 "911-receiving'' medical centers, including 85 ICU beds.
The new COVID cases announced by the county raised the cumulative total since the pandemic began to 1,124,558.
Health officials have been expressing cautious optimism about the declining daily case numbers and hospitalizations, but continue to warn that the pandemic could easily surge again if people grow complacent and stop adhering to health restrictions, particularly with the recent reopening of more businesses and with Super Bowl Sunday just days away.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary, warned Tuesday that although case rates and numbers are falling, they're still "not low.'' He noted that prior to the winter surge that began in November, several counties -- including Los Angeles -- were on the verge of emerging from the restrictive "purple'' tier of the state's economic reopening matrix, with daily new case rates dropping to nearly 7 per 100,000 residents. But while numbers are declining, Los Angeles County's adjusted case rate was listed at 38.7 per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday, five times the rate needed to move out of the "purple'' tier.
"It's just a reminder that COVID is still abound in our communities,'' Ghaly said. "We've got to keep our guard up. How likely is it that we'll see another surge? I think again it comes back to the behaviors and our own sense of personal choices and personal responsibility on this.''
The upcoming Super Bowl is raising concerns statewide about people gathering for viewing parties, and health officials continue to warn against such get-togethers. Los Angeles County took the extra step of requiring restaurants to turn off or remove all televisions in customer seating areas when patio dining was permitted to resume last Friday.
Ghaly noted in his briefing Tuesday that sporting events played a clear role in the winter surge of cases, particularly in Southern California thanks to the Dodgers' World Series title and the Lakers' win in the NBA Finals.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer delivered that same message Monday.
"We do know that the surge was driven in part by gatherings with those not in your household,'' Ferrer said. "This is why we're asking that during this time of continued high rates of community transmission, and the appearance of more infectious variants, please stay home on Super Bowl Sunday.
This year, no one should create any additional risk that will come by hosting or attending a party with people outside their immediate household. This Sunday, play it safe and enjoy the game at home with those who live in your household.''
Ferrer noted in a statement Tuesday that the persistently high number of deaths from COVID, and the large percentage of fatalities that occur among older residents, highlight the urgency of getting more vaccines administered to
the county's older population.
"More than 72% of all our COVID-19 deaths occurred in people 65 years old or older,'' Ferrer said. "Given the high mortality rates among older individuals, please do not make appointments for vaccinations if it is not your turn. Help us make sure that our most vulnerable elderly residents are prioritized for the limited available vaccine.''
County officials said Monday that as of late January, 7.9% of people in Los Angeles County had received at least a first dose of the vaccine, and the county had administered 79.8% of its supply. Ferrer said that as of last week, the county had received 991,375 doses of the vaccination, and 790,902 shots had been administered.
She acknowledged, however, that the limited availability of vaccine has dramatically slowed the overall effort. The county's weekly allocations have varied greatly, but have been averaging around 140,000 doses. And of late, much of the new vaccine supply being received each week must be reserved to provide second doses to people who have already had the first shot.
Ferrer noted that more than 85,000 appointments at county vaccination
sites have been reserved through Feb. 19 for second doses.