COVID-19 hospitalizations in LA County climb back above 1,300

The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals rose back above 1,300, while the county reported more than 4,200 new infections in its latest data.

According to state figures, there were 1,304 COVID-positive patients hospitalized in the county Wednesday, up from 1,267 a day earlier. Of those patients, 135 were being treated in intensive care, down from 154 on Tuesday.

The county Department of Public Health reported 4,211 new infections Wednesday, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 3,592,066. Health officials have stressed that the official number is likely an undercount of actual COVID cases in the county, since many people opt to take at-home tests, and many others don't test at all.

Another 16 virus-related deaths were also reported, raising the county's pandemic death toll to 34,368.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 11.6% as of Tuesday, roughly the same as a week ago.

County health officials are closely watching virus-related hospitalization numbers as they consider whether to re-impose an indoor mask-wearing mandate. The county moved closer to such a move last week when it moved into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "high" COVID activity category, thanks to a new infection rate of 258 per 100,000 people.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said the county will re-impose an indoor mask mandate if it remains in the "high" category and if the county's virus-related hospitalization numbers reach two thresholds:

-- if the rate of daily hospital admissions tops 10 per 100,000 residents; and

-- if the percent of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID patients tops 10%.

The county has already surpassed the first threshold, with the rate of daily hospital admissions already at 14.8 per 100,000 residents as of last Thursday. The percent of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients was 6.9% as of last Thursday, still below the 10% threshold.

Ferrer said the health department's initial projections showed that the hospital bed percentage would reach 10% by Dec. 20, but she said admission numbers appeared to leveled off last week, meaning it may be longer before the figure reaches 10% -- if at all.

Mask wearing continues to be "strongly recommended" by the county at indoor public settings. But Ferrer said that even absent a mandate, residents should start wearing them, given the elevated rate of transmission.

Masks are still required indoors at health-care and congregate-care facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and at businesses where they are required by the owner.