LA County's COVID hospitalizations continue to fall

The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals has fallen below 1,200, dropping by 44 people to 1,162, according to the latest state figures.

Of those patients hospitalized as of Saturday, 123 were being treated in intensive care, down from 126 the previous day.

Many of the hospitalized patients entered the hospital for other reasons and only discovered they were COVID-positive after a mandated test.

The latest figures come one day after the county Department of Public Health reported 4,864 new infections and 19 additional virus-related fatalities, bringing the county's totals to 3,325,622 cases and 32,826 fatalities since the pandemic began.

The county's seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 12.8% as of Friday.

Local health officials say they've seen a steady downward trend in cases and other pandemic metrics in recent days.

The county on Thursday had hoped to fall out of the federal government's "high" virus activity category and into the "medium" category. But the average daily rate of new COVID-related hospital admissions just missed the threshold for the "medium" rating.

Under metrics developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a county is considered in a "high" activity category if its average daily rate of COVID-related hospital admissions tops 10 per 100,000 residents. The CDC updates the numbers every Thursday.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said numbers posted by the CDC on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week were all low enough to warrant the move to "medium." But on Thursday, CDC figures put the county's COVID-admission rate at 10.1 per 100,000 residents, slightly above the threshold for "high" virus activity.

"While this is disappointing, given that the county- and CDC- calculated hospital admission rate has been at or below 10 for the last few days, we do remain hopeful that this number can be adjusted soon so that the county will be officially moved into the `medium' community level," Ferrer said in an online media briefing Thursday.

The county remaining in the "high" virus-activity level has no practical impact for residents. The county had previously announced plans to re- impose an indoor mask-wearing mandate if the county remained in the "high" category for two consecutive weeks. But Ferrer announced that in light of declining case and hospitalization numbers, the county would delay such a move.

Mask-wearing indoors remains only "strongly recommended" by the county, although it is still required in select settings, such as aboard transit vehicles, in airports, in health care settings, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.

The county on Wednesday began offering doses of the recently approved Novavax COVID-19 vaccine. Ferrer said the vaccine is a more traditional protein- based shot, rather than the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. She told the Board of Supervisors this week she hoped the introduction of a more traditional vaccine might convince those who were hesitant to receive the Pfizer or Moderna shots to get vaccinated.

County locations offering the Novavax shots can be found on the website

Residents can also contact their health care provider to see if it offers Novavax.

Residents 18 years and older can get the Novavax vaccine, which is a two-dose primary series, with the second dose administered three weeks after the first. Boosters are not recommended, and the Novavax vaccine is not authorized for children 17 and younger.