LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County reported 644 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths on Saturday, as the county's rate of infections continued to grow alarmingly over the last several days.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 inched up from 275 on Friday to 278, with the number of COVID patients in ICU units in the county dropping from 72 to 70, according to state figures.
Saturday's figures brought the county's totals to 1,251,848 cases and 24,498 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Health officials say the recent increase is being fueled by the rise in COVID-19 variants, particularly the more contagious Delta variant. They added that with four million residents in L.A. County still unvaccinated and a tripling of cases over the past week, there is enough risk for the Delta variant to pose a significant threat.
The variant is believed to be responsible for more than 26% of current COVID infections in the United States, and is also blamed for rampant infections in India and parts of the United Kingdom.
While emerging data affirm that fully vaccinated people are well protected from severe infections with Delta variants, people with only one vaccine are not as well protected, and there is increasing evidence that a very small number of fully vaccinated individuals can become infected and may be
able to infect others, the department said.
"We are grateful to everyone for the tremendous progress we have made over the past year, yet we are not out of the woods just yet,'' County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "If you plan to gather with others this holiday, please take sensible precautions to avoid transmission of the virus, particularly if you are gathering with individuals and children not yet vaccinated. If you are unvaccinated, consider getting your vaccination now to increase your protection as other public health precautions have been lifted; talk to a friend or loved one who has been vaccinated and ask them about their experience. Vaccines provide us with the best tool for ending this pandemic
that has plagued us for so many months.''
On Friday, the department said the rolling average rate of people testing positive for the virus was increasing, but still remains very low at just 1.3%. That's up from 1.2% on Thursday but is four times the 0.3% rate reported by the county in early June.
Health officials have been closely watching case numbers and testing-positivity rates, which have been steadily inching upward since most COVID health restrictions were lifted on June 15. The increases come as a highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus continues spreading locally and nationally.
Ferrer said Thursday 245 cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in the county, nearly double the number from last week. The county conducts limited sequencing tests needed to identify the variants, so the number cannot be extrapolated across the population, but Delta has become
the most dominant variant detected in the county.
More than 10.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the county. The latest numbers show that 59% of residents age 16 or older are fully vaccinated, while 68% have received at least one dose. The numbers are higher among seniors, with 76% of people 65 and older fully
vaccinated, and 87% with at least one dose.
In hopes of encouraging more people to get vaccinated, the county is continuing to offer incentives. Beginning Friday and continuing until next Thursday, anyone who gets vaccinated at sites operated by the county, the city of Los Angeles or St. John's Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a
chance to win one of four ticket packages for the Huntington Library, Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles County Arboretum and South Coast Botanic Garden. The packages include an annual membership to the Huntington and one-day passes to the other facilities.
In Orange County, health officials on Friday confirmed another 74 COVID infections on Friday, lifting the cumulative total to 256,445. One more death was also reported, raising the county's death toll to 5,123.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID in Orange County fell from 70 on Thursday to 63 on Friday, with 12 of those patients in the ICU. OC officials no longer update their daily case numbers on the weekend.