LA County reports another 34,448 cases of coronavirus

Los Angeles County reported 34,448 new positive COVID-19 tests and 16 additional deaths associated with the virus Saturday, amid an accelerated surge in transmission driven by the Omicron variant.

The county has seen more than 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 7 days, the highest number in one week since the beginning of the pandemic.

"As the surge continues, we ask residents and businesses to continue following the public health safety measures that we know reduce spread and keep people safe," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday. "This includes wearing a medical grade mask that is more protective against the Omicron variant and not spending time around others who are unmasked. These upgraded masks can be a surgical mask or an N95 or KN95 respirator mask."

Officials also urged residents to reconsider attending high-risk activities, including indoor activities where individuals are unmasked for long periods of time, and crowded outdoor events.

The county's rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 20.4% as of Saturday. Overall, more than 10,269,000 individuals have been tested, with 17% of people testing positive to date, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals surged by nearly 300 people in one day, rising to an even 3,200, according to the latest state figures.

The number of those patients in intensive care was 411, up from 391 on Friday and 352 on Thursday.

Many of those patients entered the hospital for another reason and only discovered they had the coronavirus after a mandated COVID test, according to local officials.

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And while still well short of the peak hospitalization numbers seen last winter -- when more than 8,000 COVID-positive patients filled hospitals -- the rising number is still generating concern. Health care facilities are finding themselves increasingly short-staffed, in part because of COVID infections among health care workers.

According to the county health department, 973 infections among health care workers were reported over the past week, a jump of 47% from the prior period. That rise comes despite the relatively high rate of vaccinations among health care workers -- showing the power of the Omicron variant of the virus to infect even vaccinated residents, although they are less likely to become severely ill.

The state is requiring all health care workers in the state to receive a booster dose of vaccine by Feb. 1. Those who do not receive the booster must be tested twice weekly.

"Keeping health care workers safe is critical to maintaining functionality across our health care facilities when surges lead to staffing shortages and rising rates of hospitalizations," Ferrer said Friday. "Across multiple health care settings, our health care personnel have given their all and been fully vaccinated at high levels for many months.

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"Every resident can also do their part to protect our health care personnel and hospitals. Please get vaccinated or boosted as soon as possible if eligible. Vaccinated individuals are between 10 and 30 times less likely to need hospital care than those unvaccinated. We ask that you do not go to the emergency room unless you need care for a serious medical concern and please do not call 911 unless you have a life-threatening emergency."

The county set a single-day record for COVID-19 infections on Friday, reporting 43,712 new cases. Saturday's data brought the county's cumulative totals to 1,921,890 cases and 27,772 fatalities since the pandemic began.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday unveiled a proposed $2.7 billion COVID-19 emergency response package as part of his next budget proposal, including a $1.4 billion emergency appropriation request to bolster testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers, strengthen the health care system and "battle misinformation."

On Friday, Newsom announced the activation the California National Guard to help provide additional testing facilities and capacity amid the national surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant.

"California has led the country's fight against COVID-19, implementing first-in-the-nation public health measures that have helped save tens of thousands of lives," Newsom said. "We continue to support communities in their response to COVID by bolstering testing capacity."

The announcement comes as Omicron continues to spread rapidly across the globe, accounting for at least 80% of COVID-19 cases in California.

Surging infection numbers prompted LA County this week to amend its public health order, requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.

The order, issued Wednesday, will take effect Jan. 17 and requires employers to provide affected workers with "well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks, or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks."

The revised order also amended the definition of outdoor "mega events," where masking is required, to 5,000 or more attendees; and the definition of indoor "mega" events to 500 or more people. The numbers align with those in the state's health order. The county's order also "recommends" that food and drink be consumed only in designated dining areas.

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The upgraded mask requirement for county workplaces mirrors an order released late last week by the county for K-12 schools, requiring teachers and staff to wear higher-grade face coverings. USC announced this week it will require all students and staff to wear higher-grade masks when in-person classes resume.

According to county figures released Thursday, of the more than 6.4 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 199,314 have tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 3.1%, while 3,348 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.05%. A total of 625 fully vaccinated people have died, for a rate of 0.01%.

The testing-positivity rate, however, may be artificially low due to the number of people who use take-home tests and don't report the results.

Overall, 79% of eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 71% are fully vaccinated. Of the county's overall population of 10.3 million people, 75% have received at least one dose, and 67% are fully vaccinated.

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