LA County could improve to 'low' COVID activity level in next week

Just weeks after moving from the federal government's "high" COVID-19 activity category to the "medium" rating thanks to falling hospitalization rates, Los Angeles County could soon graduate into the "low" category as case numbers continue to fall, the public health director said Tuesday.

Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors that transmission of the virus still remains elevated, but based on official infection numbers, the county could move to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "low" virus-activity category within the next week.

The categorization change would have no practical effect for residents, other than sending a message of an overall slowing of virus transmission.

The county moved into the "high" virus level in mid-July, thanks to a new infection rate that topped 200 per 100,000 residents and an average daily virus-related hospitalization rate that topped 10 per 100,000 residents. On Aug. 12, however, the county moved back to the "medium" category when the hospitalization rate fell below 10 per 100,000 residents.

Moving into the "low" category will require the county's hospitalization rate to remain below that threshold, and for the rate of new infections to fall below 200 per 100,000 residents. That rate has been steadily falling, reaching 213 per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, down substantially from a month ago, Ferrer said.

"It's possible L.A. County ... could move to the low community level in this next week, should that case rate drop below 200," Ferrer said.

She noted, however, that the official infection numbers reported by the county and the CDC represent an undercount of the actual number of cases that are occurring locally -- thanks to the proliferation of at-home tests.

Ferrer also noted that the hospitalization rate is still fluctuating. Last week, the county's hospitalization rate ticked up to 9.6 per 100,000 residents.

But Ferrer said the recent hospital numbers have been flawed by a glitch in the data-collection system utilized by hospitals to report admission numbers to the state. That issue has led to a revision of hospital numbers over the past week. She said that as of Tuesday, the COVID hospital admission rate in the county was at 8.7 per 100,000.

She also said that while the falling transmission rate is good news, a rate of 200 per 100,000 residents "is still high," and residents should continue to take all available prevention measures to prevent infections. She urged residents to take that message to heart over the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

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The county on Tuesday reported another 2,090 new COVID cases, raising the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 3,405,184. Another 14 virus- related deaths were also reported, giving the county a death toll of 33,138.

All of the 14 newly reported deaths had underlying health conditions.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 8.1% as of Tuesday.

According to state data -- which is being reviewed due to the glitch in the data-collection system, there were 841 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, down from 889 on Saturday. Of those patients, 92 were being treated in intensive care, down from 102 on Saturday.

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.