With holiday weekend gatherings ahead -- accompanied by a heat wave that'll keep many people indoors -- Los Angeles County's public health director is again preaching caution against the spread of COVID-19, despite falling local transmission rates.
The county on Thursday officially moved into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "low" COVID-19 activity level, a result of the falling infection rate and continued slower pace of new virus-related hospital admissions.
“As we all look forward to celebrating Labor Day and expressing our deep appreciation to the many hard-working people throughout our county, we face the twin challenges this holiday weekend of ongoing circulation of COVID, plus very high heat across most regions of L.A. County,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. ``With the extreme heat, it will make sense for many to move gatherings indoors. When gathering indoors, you can maximize ventilation by opening windows and doors, using air filters, and setting HVAC systems to maximize fresh air exchange. It is also advisable to wear a mask if gathering indoors with individuals whose COVID status is unknown.”
The CDC moved Los Angeles County into the "low" category when the average rate of new COVID infections fell below the threshold of 200 per 100,000 residents. The official infection rate as of Thursday was about 193 new cases per 100,000 residents.
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The county's hospitalization numbers also remained low, with the average daily rate of new virus-related admissions estimated at 9 per 100,000 residents -- below the CDC's threshold of 10 per 100,000 residents.
Those statistics were good enough to move the county out of the “medium” activity category. The move has no practical effect for residents, since it will not trigger any changes in public health protocols, with most restrictions already lifted.
“Moving into the low community level reflects minimal stress on the hospital care system in L.A. County associated with COVID-19,'' Ferrer said during an online briefing Thursday. ``However, viral transmission with a case rate of just below 200 is still high, as it represents about 2,600 new cases a day. Our hope is that we can continue to slow transmission so that we reach a weekly case rate of less than 100, which would drop that daily number of new cases to 1,400.”
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Ferrer has also noted that the official number of new cases reported each day is an undercount of actual virus activity in the county, since many people rely on at-home tests, the results of which are not reported to the county.
The county reported another 2,705 new cases on Friday, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,413,783. Another 16 virus-related deaths were also reported, giving the county an overall death toll of 33,187.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 7.8% as of Friday.
According to state figures, there were 788 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Friday, up from 760 on Thursday. Of those patients, 91 were being treated in intensive care, up slightly from 90 a day earlier.
Ferrer said this week the hospitalization numbers could be slightly off due to a glitch in the data-reporting system hospitals use to share COVID patient numbers with the state.
Health officials have said roughly 43% of COVID-positive hospital 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.
In addition to urging caution against virus spread over Labor Day weekend, Ferrer on Friday also called for residents to protect themselves from the heat.
“Given the high heat we are experiencing, we ask that everyone do their part to take care of those most vulnerable by checking on your friends, family and neighbors,'' she said in a statement. “Older adults, babies, and those with underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable to heat stress. Please never leave children, pets, or elderly persons in parked cars, even for a few minutes. Be sure to drink a lot of water and seek medical care for yourself or anyone experiencing symptoms of heat-related illness.
“There will be cooling centers open throughout the county, and many are already open. Spending a few hours in a cool setting can be lifesaving when temperatures are high. As we have fun connecting with family and friends, these steps, along with other measures, can make our celebrations safer from COVID and the extreme heat.”