LA County hits record low of positive COVID-19 cases

Los Angeles County, which was among the hardest-hit by a deadly coronavirus surge, reported a record low number of new cases Monday as California’s overall figures continued to plummet.

The county of 10 million reported under 1,000 new daily cases — back to numbers not seen since before the fall and winter surge — and the daily rate of COVID-19 tests that were positive averaged about 3% over seven days compared to about 20% in early January.

"That’s actually the lowest its ever been since we’ve been offering testing in the community," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

While the number of new cases could be lower because of a lag in weekend reporting, Ferrer said overall the county is moving in a positive direction. She said people appeared to have heeded social distancing and other safety measures designed to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline "and we have not seen any increases due to gatherings that may have happened during the Super Bowl or the Presidents Day weekend," Ferrer said.

"These declines are real and we’re grateful for the choices made and the work done by everyone — individuals and businesses — that is making this possible," Ferrer said.

Another hopeful sign was that the number of COVID-19 cases among health care workers had plunged to the lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic last year. More than 1,800 cases were reported during the week of Nov. 29 compared to 69 for the week of Feb. 14.

Health care workers were among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and the reduction is "one of the first visible signs of the power of the vaccine to decrease our cases," Ferrer said.

The county, which has about a quarter of California’s population, has had some 1.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 21,500 deaths, or about 40% of all virus deaths in the state.

The county’s positivity rate was finally approaching that of California as a whole but the decline appeared to be general.

The state’s 7-day positivity rate as of Monday was down to 2.3%. Health officials couldn’t immediately says whether that was a record low. However, officials said California’s 14-day test positivity rate of 2.6% was close to the state’s recorded low in mid-October.

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"Just remember, six weeks ago, we were announcing over 50,000 cases," Gov. Gavin Newsom said. "So things are moving in the right direction, things seem to be stabilizing."

With a vaccine rollout ramping up and COVID-19 cases dropping, state and local officials have come under increasing pressure to reopen businesses closed for nearly a year and for schools to reopen for in-classroom instruction.

Some counties — although not L.A. — have dropped out of the state’s highest tier of COVID-19 restrictions, allowing them to reopen businesses such as movie theaters, gyms and indoor restaurant dining. Seven more were expected to join the lower tiers on Tuesday, including San Francisco and Santa Clara.

Newsom and legislative leaders on Monday announced they had reached an agreement aimed at getting most children back in classrooms by the end of March. Under the deal, school districts could receive up to $2 billion if they reopen by March 31.

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