The number of COVID-positive hospital patients continues to plunge in Los Angeles County, declining by 125 people to 2,086, according to the latest state figures released Sunday.
The number of those patients in intensive care was 439, down from 461 a day earlier.
Hospitalizations had climbed to over 4,800 in mid-January at the height of the Omicron-fueled winter surge in cases.
Under guidelines announced this month by county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, if the hospitalization number stays below 2,500 for seven consecutive days, the county will consider itself to be entering a "post-surge'' phase, and will lift its mask mandate for outdoor "mega-events'' and outdoors at schools and childcare centers. Saturday marked the third day of sub-2,500 hospitalizations.
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Ferrer said last week that absent a sudden increase in hospitalizations, the outdoor mask mandate could be lifted as early as this Wednesday.
The latest numbers came as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 4,889 new positive COVID tests and another 58 virus-related deaths. Those numbers -- which officials said likely reflect reporting delays over the weekend -- brought the county's totals to 2,761,870 cases and 29,902 fatalities since the pandemic began.
More than 11.2 million individuals have been tested, with 22% of those people testing positive, the health department said.
Ferrer cautioned people planning to watch Sunday's Super Bowl in person, at area bars or restaurants or at private parties to follow several common-sense guidelines, including:
- Getting a COVID test as close to the start of the game as possible and after the game if you had possible exposures;
- Keeping gatherings small and outdoors, or if that's not an option, improving indoor air flow;
- Keeping your hands clean and keeping your distance while eating;
- Wearing a well-fitted high-quality mask.
"As people prepare to watch the game either at SoFi Stadium, at a restaurant or bar, or at home with friends and family, please remember the sensible public health measures that protect us all,'' Ferrer said Saturday.
"LA County believes in taking care of each other, and I know we can take care of one another and enjoy the game at the same time. Please be safe, have the best time ever, and go Rams!''
On Friday, Ferrer again urged vaccinated residents to obtain booster shots, noting that the effectiveness of vaccines wanes over time, and saying the additional dose is the best defense against a trip to a hospital due to the virus.
"Given the evidence of waning protection over time from the COVID vaccines, eligible residents and workers should get boosted as soon as possible,'' she said in a statement. "As we think about the 'post-surge' strategies, increasing the number of people optimally protected from COVID infection helps us decrease the number of people who become seriously ill and die from COVID. Appropriate actions that allow us to live with this virus without major disruptions to our lives will need to include strategies that reduce the impact of the virus on those most vulnerable.''
While the county's outdoor masking requirements could be lifted this week, the indoor masking mandate will remain in place until much stricter criteria are met. That's in spite of the state planning to lift its indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people next week.
According to Ferrer, the county's indoor mask rule will not be lifted until the county's virus-transmission rate falls to the "moderate'' level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two straight weeks, or until COVID vaccines have been available to children under 5 years old for eight weeks.
Reaching the CDC's "moderate'' designation requires the county to have a cumulative, seven-day new case rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. According to the CDC's website, the county's rate was 518 per 100,000 as of Friday. That's down from 622 per 100,000 residents on Thursday.