Los Angeles County reported 3,730 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday and 21 additional deaths associated with the virus -- the second consecutive day that saw more than 3,000 new cases after months of lower totals.
Saturday's numbers come one day after local health officials reported 3,360 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more confirmed cases of the omicron variant amid stepped-up efforts to combat the pandemic, including new rules for attending large events.
In a small bit of good news, the number of Los Angeles County residents hospitalized with COVID-19 fell by seven to 742 Saturday, with 180 of those patients in intensive care, down two from Friday's totals, according to the latest state figures.
The county had 772 COVID patients on Thursday.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has logged 1,560,377 cases of COVID-19 and 27,432 fatalities since the pandemic began.
As of Friday, anyone attending indoor or outdoor mega-events in the county who cannot provide proof of full vaccination was required to provide proof of a negative COVID test within one day (if antigen test) or two days (if PCR test) of the event.
Children under age 2 are exempt from the rule for indoor events, and children under 5 are exempt for outdoor events. This is a change from the previous health order, which required proof of a negative test within 72 hours.
The county defines mega-events as indoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people or outdoor events of more than 10,000 people.
The new omicron cases brought the county's confirmed total to 38. Of the eight cases reported Friday, five people were fully vaccinated and one received a booster. One person reported international travel and one person reported domestic travel, according to the health department.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday there is no evidence to suggest the new variant causes more severe symptoms than previous versions, but it is more transmissible than other variants.
"Based on the data collected to date, we anticipate that omicron will circulate more widely in LA County in the very near future, leading to many more cases over a short period of time, particularly given increased gatherings with travel over the winter holiday," Ferrer said.
"Unvaccinated individuals appear to remain at the highest risk, but all the evidence to date indicates that those fully vaccinated are also at increased risk, particularly for getting infected and infecting others."
Officials noted Thursday's action by an advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which unanimously voted to give a preferential recommendation to mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna over the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to rare but serious blood clots associated with the latter.
Dr. Isaac See of the CDC said health officials have confirmed 54 cases of the blood clots -- nine of which have been fatal -- and two additional deaths suspected to be related to the blood clotting issue.
LA County officials say that as of Dec. 12, over 530,000 residents have received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
"We remind residents that L.A. County's supply of mRNA vaccines is abundant and that when it is time to get a booster dose, individuals previously vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should consider boosters with Pfizer or Moderna," the health department said Friday.
"We appreciate the CDC's guidance on vaccine choice," Ferrer said. "While any vaccine is better than no vaccine, we urge those who have received Johnson and Johnson vaccines to obtain booster doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to ensure they are well protected from suffering severe COVID outcomes."
The county's health department also said Friday that compliance with mask-wearing mandates in the public and business sector was high, and credited the practice with keeping transmission low in public schools. With more than 1.55 million students across 3,000 L.A. County schools, officials said they are routinely seeing fewer than a dozen outbreaks each week.
And out of more than 1,500 site visits conducted from Dec. 4-10, the vast majority of businesses and industries, including restaurants, bars, food markets and hair salons, had masking compliance rates above 95%.