LOS ANGELES - COVID-19 cases continued to mount Thursday in Los Angeles County, but the public health director said the rate of infection increases is slowing and the testing-positivity rate is down, indicators that the surge is leveling off.
The county has also now seen three consecutive weeks of increases in the number of people getting their first dose of vaccine -- a positive sign given continued data showing that unvaccinated residents are most likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus.
The county reported another 3,672 COVID-19 infections on Thursday, bringing the overall number from throughout the pandemic to 1,315,313. Another 19 deaths were confirmed, raising the county's COVID death toll to 24,739.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county's current rate of new cases is 21.1 per 100,000 residents, which is a drop from 24 per 100,000 last week. The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus is 4.73%, down a full percentage point from last week.
"Although today's rate will likely change somewhat over the coming days as additional test results are reported, this does suggest to us that our rise in cases may be leveling out," Ferrer said.
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"... While we're still experiencing a significantly high case rate, a little more than 2 weeks ago at the time of our recent health officer order requiring universal masking indoors, we also noted that our cases had doubled every 10 days," Ferrer said. "What we're seeing now is a much smaller increase in our cases over a couple of weeks, which is what we're hoping for 10 days after implementing an effective public health measure."
Ferrer said that on Aug. 1, the county had seen a 22% week-over-week increase in new cases -- while the increase in the rest of the state was 57%, a sign Los Angeles County -- which implemented a mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate in mid-July -- is now seeing slower transmission of the virus.
Ferrer said it was too early to say if the mask requirement is responsible for the county's improvement, "but I know for sure it contributed."
Vaccination efforts are also improving in the county, with more than 81,000 first doses administered in the week ending Aug. 1 -- the third week in a row the number has increased, after a long period of declines.
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Among county residents aged 12 and over, 6.22 million have received at least one dose, and 5.45 million are fully vaccinated. Of the county's overall 10.3 million residents -- including more than a million who aren't eligible for the shots -- 61% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 53% are fully vaccinated.
Black residents aged 12 and up continue to have the lowest rate of vaccinations, at 47%, followed by Latino residents at 56%, white residents at 67% and Asians at 78%. Residents aged 12-15 have the lowest overall vaccination rate at 49%. Black residents aged 12-15 have a vaccination rate of just 26%.
As a result, Ferrer said, Black residents are experiencing the highest rate of new COVID infections, at 426 per 100,000 residents during the two-week period that ended July 24. That was a 500% increase from the two-week period ending June 26.
Ferrer again highlighted the danger of the virus to unvaccinated residents, noting that from May 1 to July 17, people who haven't been vaccinated were nearly four times more likely to be infected with COVID than vaccinated residents. Of the 3,158 people who were hospitalized in the county during that time period, only 8% were fully vaccinated.
"The hospitalization rate is rapidly increasing among unvaccinated people, while it remains extremely low among vaccinated people," Ferrer said. "The risk of hospitalization is 19 times higher in L.A. County among people not fully vaccinated than it is among fully vaccinated people."
According to state figures, there were 1,370 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID as of Thursday morning, including 297 people in intensive care.
Ferrer said that between April 1 and July 18, 95.2% of the people aged 16 and older who died from COVID in the county were unvaccinated.
As of Aug. 3, among roughly 5 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 15,628 had tested positive for the virus, for an infection rate of 0.31%. Just 446 were hospitalized, for a rate of 0.009% and 41 had died, a rate of 0.0008%.
Ferrer acknowledged that vaccinated people can get infected with the virus, but they are far less likely to become serious ill or require hospitalization.
"While we've seen cases rise among vaccinated people, their experience of COVID is worlds away from the severe illness the infection continues to cause in unvaccinated people," she said. "This is why we're asking everyone eligible to get vaccinated. Almost all COVID hospitalizations and deaths are preventable."
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