LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County reported 1,602 new cases of COVID-19 and 29 additional deaths Saturday, along with another slight decrease in hospitalizations related to the coronavirus.
Officials with the county's health department said they continue to see a downward trend in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, providing some reassurance that higher vaccination rates and safety precautions at Labor Day celebrations helped avert the usual increase in cases experienced after major holidays.
On Sept. 15, the 7-day daily case average of COVID-19 was 1,476, the lowest it has been since July 14. Meanwhile, hospitalizations have declined 17% over the last week's numbers, and after a long plateau, deaths have also declined slightly.
According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thresholds, transmission in LA County has moved from the "high" to the "substantial" level, with a weekly case rate of 86 new cases per 100,000 residents.
"While we are seeing important gains in our efforts to reduce community spread of COVID-19, we cannot afford to be complacent given the very real risks posed by this virus. We still need to lower the number of new cases so that we enter the fall and winter seasons in the best possible shape to avoid the devastation we endured last year," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
"We typically see respiratory viruses flourish with the colder weather and when we move activities indoors. If we raise our vaccination rate, protect ourselves and others with masking, and use expanded testing to identify people who are infected early so they can isolate and their close contacts quarantine, we have a chance to avoid another winter surge like we suffered last year," she added.
The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals dropped for the 24th time in the last 26 days on Saturday, declining from 956 to 947, according to state figures.
The number of those patients in intensive care fell from 310 on Friday to 278.
Hospitalizations due to the virus had reached nearly 1,800 during the summer peak fueled by the Delta variant.
Saturday's test positivity rate was 1.3%.
As of Sept. 19, 92% of LA County residents aged 65 years and over had received at least one dose of vaccine, as had 78% of residents 16 years and over and 77% of residents 12 years and over. Sixty-eight percent of residents 12 years and over have been fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination have officially become available in Los Angeles County for select residents, with federal health officials giving final approval to the additional vaccine dose to bolster virus protection for higher-risk groups.
"Eligible Los Angeles County residents can begin receiving their booster dose at any of the hundreds of sites offering the Pfizer vaccine," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Friday. "The booster dose offers enhanced protection for those fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine six months ago who are at increased risk of getting COVID-19 and/or experiencing severe illness from COVID. The L.A. County vaccination network is prepared to offer boosters today while continuing to prioritize getting first doses to those eligible and not yet vaccinated."
An advisory panel for the CDC on Thursday recommended Pfizer booster shots for people 65 and older, those in long-term care facilities and people 50- 64 with underlying health conditions, as well as select people aged 18-49 with serious health issues.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Friday endorsed the recommendation, and expanded it to include people at increased risk of infection due to their occupation.
Booster shots are only available for people who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago. Boosters have not yet been approved for people who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Appointments for booster shots can be made through the state's MyTurn website. Appointments can also be made directly at pharmacies or clinics that offer Pfizer vaccines.
Ferrer has noted that the county has 1,300 fixed vaccination sites, along with 400 mobile clinics, meaning there's a local capacity to administer 130,000 shots per day, so the county is well-positioned to handle demand for booster shots.
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