Los Angeles County urges public to avoid high-risk Halloween activities

(Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for SVEDKA Vodka)

The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals dropped by 20 Sunday to 638, one day after increasing by 20 people.

The number of those patients in intensive care ticked up from 182 to 184, according to state figures.

The county's number of COVID patients has fluctuated in recent days after weeks of steady decline, rising for three straight days, then dropping for two straight days before Saturday's increase.

Local health officials reported 1,122 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 additional deaths Saturday, bringing the county's cumulative totals to 1,476,791 cases and 26,410 deaths since the pandemic began.

The highly transmissible Delta variant continues to account for 100% of COVID-19 strains seen among samples sequenced in the area, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said.

Saturday's test positivity rate was 0.8%.

RELATED: Fauci: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas gatherings safe for vaccinated people

Health officials are urging residents to plan for a safe Halloween. Officials reminded people that closed spaces with poor air flow, crowded places with many people nearby and close contact settings where people are talking, laughing, screaming, or breathing heavily close together are the most dangerous environments for contracting the virus and should be avoided at all costs.

"The safest activities will be those that are outside, including outdoor costume parties, pumpkin patch visits, outdoor ghost tours, hayrides, and trick-or-treating -- when done safely," the department said. "Wherever possible, aim to be outside, particularly if you are with individuals, including children, that are not yet vaccinated; masks covering your nose and mouth should be worn if in crowds or close contact with others not in your household.

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More information for residents, businesses and event organizers to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during holidays can be found at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/holidays.htm.

Meanwhile, county health officials are gearing up to offer more COVID- 19 vaccine booster shots, with federal approval moving closer for additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccinations.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday recommended booster doses of the J&J vaccine for adults, administered at least two months after receiving the initial shot. The panel on Thursday recommended boosters of the Moderna vaccine, given at least six months after a person received the second of the two-dose regimen.

Department of Public Health officials have insisted the county is well- equipped to begin administering booster doses once they receive final federal approval, although they continued to stress the need for unvaccinated people to come in for their first dose.

"We can expect all COVID-19 vaccines available in the country to have a booster option in the near future," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Friday. "In the near future, we expect that millions more L.A. County residents will qualify for a booster. For those who are older, have underlying health conditions, or high risk of exposure at a worksite, please plan to get your booster once you are eligible. This will allow your immune system to mount a more effective response to the virus. As we prepare for colder weather and the holidays, getting a first, second or third dose of a COVID vaccine should be very high on our to do list."

Ferrer on Thursday continued to lament the slow pace of people getting vaccinated, saying only about 41,000 first doses were administered across the county during the week that ended Sunday. She said the "the single thing that we need to do as a community to reduce our risk of another surge is we need to decrease our numbers of unvaccinated people."

According to Ferrer, 79% of eligible county residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 70% are fully vaccinated. Among the overall 10.3 million population, including those ineligible for shots, 68% have received at least one dose, and 60% are fully vaccinated.

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