As LA County’s COVID-19 cases continue falling, health director urges boosters

Amid falling COVID-19 numbers, Los Angeles County’s public health director expressed optimism on Friday, Sept. 16, that the region will avoid another winter surge like those that resulted in rampant infections and hospitalizations the past two years.

Pointing to the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine booster specifically engineered to attack the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants of the virus, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer urged residents to take advantage of the shots.

“While it is humbling to look back over the past 2 1/2 years and be reminded of the enormity of the impact of COVID on our lives,” Ferrer said in a statement, I am also encouraged as we face our third winter with COVID because we are heading into the colder months with an updated fall booster that matches the variants currently circulating.

“This was not the case this past winter, when the highly infectious Omicron variant raged,” she added, “nor the winter of 2020/2021 when most of us were not yet vaccinated.”

The county has been reporting downward trends in local infection rates and in the number of people hospitalized with the virus.

This week, the county’s seven-day average new case rate was on the verge of falling below 100 per 100,000 residents, Ferrer said. When the county crosses that threshold, possibly by the end of the month, it will further relax its recommendation for indoor mask wearing.

Masks are currently “strongly recommended” in most indoor settings. But the falling case rate will change it to an “individual preference.”

Masks continue to be required in select settings, including health care facilities, correctional facilities and homeless shelters. Masks are currently still required aboard public transit vehicles such as buses and trains but, Ferrer said, that requirement could also end soon.

The county reported 1,944 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,437,648.

The official number of new cases reported each day is believed to be an undercount of actual infections in the county because of the wide usage of at-home tests, the results of which are not generally reported to public health officials.

Another 16 virus-related deaths were reported Friday, giving the county an overall death toll of 33,447.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 5.2% as of Friday, roughly the same as the past week.

There were 669 COVID-19-positive patients hospitalized in the county as of Friday, down from 677 on Thursday. Of those patients, 92 were being treated in intensive care, up from 84 a day earlier.

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The hospital numbers have been declining over the past month, corresponding with falling transmission rates. County officials have said about 43% of patients with COVID-19 were actually hospitalized because of virus-related illness, while the rest were admitted for other reasons, with some only learning they were infected when they were tested upon admission.

Despite these positive trends, Ferrer, in her statement, said it is crucial that folks have access to the new boosters as winter approaches.

“The work ahead is to be sure that access to the new vaccines is very easy,” Ferrer said, “and that everyone understands that the new Fall booster offers us our best opportunity to try and avert another terrible winter surge.”

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