As calendar flips to 2023, LA County health officials urge COVID caution

With New Year’s Eve at hand and holiday parties on tap, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Friday, Dec. 30, trumpeted “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, health officials said Friday, a day on which the county announced 3,410 new positive COVID-19 cases.

The county also reported 28 additional virus-related deaths and a total of 1,249 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized.

Friday’s daily case number represented a dip of 558 from the figure reported a day earlier. Hospitalizations also fell by 20 day over day, but the death toll was three more than Thursday’s.

The seven-day average daily case count in the county stood at 2,359 Friday — a 9% decrease from one week ago, when it was 2,595.

The new cases announced Friday gave the county a cumulative total of 3,631,736 infections throughout the pandemic. 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%.

The health department also noted that, over the past seven days, the average number of daily COVID-19-positive patients in county hospitals held fairly steady — averaging 1,207 this week compared to 1,235 last week.

The county has also reported an average of 16 deaths per day, down from the average of 22 daily virus deaths reported a week ago, according to the agency.

Of the 28 new deaths reported Friday, three were from 50 to 64 years old, eight were 65 to 79 and 14 people were at least 80, according to county data.

The cumulative virus-related death toll was 34,671, as of Friday.

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

The agency recommended several precautions, such as:

Taking an at-home COVID-19 test before attending celebrations.
Wearing 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.
Staying home when sick.

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

The county also recommends frequent hand-washing and — most important — getting a bivalent booster shot.

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

Countywide, 746 residents have died from COVID-19-related illness since October. Over the period, the health department said, there were 43 known flu-related deaths. U.S. Centers for Disease Control modeling data, however, estimates the true number was closer to 360 people, the department added.

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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,” she added, “by taking some common-sense precautions during upcoming celebrations.”

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