LOS ANGELES - The school year may be coming to an end, but Los Angeles County health officials reported more increases in COVID-19 cases among students and staff Thursday, noting that the highest infection rate in the county is among teens aged 12 to 17.
With a new infection rate of 762 per 100,000, the 12-to-17 age group has seen a doubling in its rate of contracting the virus over the past month. The rate among children aged 5 to 11 has jumped by 96% over that same time period.
Health officials noted that most children will experience only mild illness from a COVID infection, but insisted unvaccinated kids are at increased risk of becoming seriously sick or developing Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, which can have long-term health impacts.
"It is misleading to dismiss the danger of this virus for children," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "With a very safe and effective pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, we can prevent many of the serious cases and reduce the number of children with MIS-C. This requires that more children are vaccinated and up-to-date on their vaccines.
"And while those fully vaccinated can get infected, they are two times less likely to become infected than those not yet vaccinated," she said. "This means that fully vaccinated children also protect others in the community who may be more susceptible to serious illness should they become infected. As children get ready to enjoy their summer break and families arrange for summer camps, travel and more gatherings, the high rate of transmission can quickly derail plans and interrupt operations at camps and recreational programs."
According to the county, there were 7,854 COVID cases in schools across the county for the week ending May 29, up from 4,479 a month earlier.
The Department of Public Health reported 6,195 new COVID infections countywide Wednesday, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 3,014,758. Health officials have noted that current case numbers are likely much higher, since many people are using take-home tests, the results of which are not always reported to the county.
Another eight virus-related deaths were also announced, raising the county's death toll to 32,186.
According to state figures, there were 555 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, down only slightly from 557 on Tuesday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 64, up from 61 a day earlier.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 4.5% as of Wednesday.
Ferrer said last week that if virus-related hospital admissions keep rising at the pace seen over the past few weeks, the county could be moved to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "high" virus-activity category by the end of the month. Reaching that category would mean a return of mandatory indoor mask-wearing rules.
The county will move from the "medium" category into the "high" category if its average daily rate of new COVID-related hospital admissions rises above 10 per 100,000 residents, or if the percentage of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients tops 10%.
As of last Thursday, the county's rate of new hospital admissions was 5.2 per 100,000 residents, double the rate from a month ago. The portion of beds occupied by virus patients was still relatively low at 2.7%, but also higher than it was last month.
While indoor masking remains optional in most public locations for now, Ferrer urged people to consider masking up to limit spread and protect vulnerable populations.
Los Angeles County currently requires masks indoors at healthcare facilities, aboard transit vehicles and in transit hubs such as airports, in long-term care facilities, in shelters and cooling centers and in correctional facilities.