LA County urges COVID precautions to guard against holiday surge

As New Year's celebrations continue Sunday, Los Angeles County health officials are trumpeting "three simple steps" to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

"Testing before gathering, masking while indoors or in very crowded outdoor spaces, and staying home when sick" can combat transmission, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said Friday. The department also announced 3,410 new COVID-19 cases Friday, along with 28 additional virus- related deaths, bringing the county's cumulative totals to 3,631,736 infections and 34,671 fatalities.

The seven-day average daily case count in the county stood at 2,359 -- a 9% decrease from one week ago, when it was 2,595. The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 15% Friday down from Thursday's 15.6% but up from Wednesday's 14.9%.

Of the 28 new deaths reported Friday, three were between the ages of 50 and 64; eight were between 65 and 79; 14 people were 80 years or older, according to county data. The majority of people who die from COVID are elderly or have underlying health conditions.

On Saturday, the number of COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals was 1,270, up 21 from the previous day's total, according to state data. Of those patients, 150 were being treated in intensive care, up from 142 the previous day.

"Although this week, Los Angeles County remains in medium community level, based on its case rate and hospitalization numbers, winter holiday travel and celebrations could lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases, similar to what was experienced after Thanksgiving," the health department said Friday.

The agency recommended "a few sensible precautions (that) can help prevent another post-holiday surge," including:

-- take an at-home COVID-19 test before attending New Year's celebrations;

-- wear a mask in indoor public spaces and in very crowded outdoor spaces, preferably an N95, KN95 or KF94, worn securely over the nose and mouth, and,

-- stay home when sick.

"Even if they test negative for COVID-19, other respiratory illnesses are circulating at high levels this winter, including flu and respiratory syncytial virus, and both viruses can cause serious illness, hospitalizations, and death," according to the health department.

The county also recommends frequent hand-washing.

"Mortality remains very high for COVID in Los Angeles County, especially when compared to other respiratory viruses," health officials warned.

"Since October 2022, 746 county residents died of COVID-related illness. By comparison, over this same time period, there were 43 known flu- related deaths in Los Angeles County, though (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) modeling data estimates the true number was closer to 360 people."

L.A. County remains in the federal government's "medium" transmission range. Masks are still required indoors at health-care and congregate-care facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and at businesses where they are required by the owner. Otherwise, they are highly recommended.

During a briefing on Thursday, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she was "hopeful that we can get through this winter without the devastation witnessed during our previous two winter surges, while recognizing that there are still significant risks, especially with the potential of a new COVID strain."

"We can kick off 2023 in a positive way by taking some common-sense precautions during upcoming celebrations," she added.