LA County officials urge residents to test for COVID before returning to work from holidays

With kids going back to school and many employees heading back to work after the holidays, Los Angeles County health officials on Friday, Jan. 6, urged people to test for COVID-19 before returning to workplaces or campuses, and to wear a mask for 10 days to help prevent virus spread.

County health officials pointed to the rising influence of a new virus strain known as XBB.1.5, which is believed to be responsible for 40% of new cases nationally and 9% in California. The rising trend is expected to be reflected soon among Los Angeles County cases, officials said.

“With XBB.1.5 rising across the country, I want to be aware that very soon we could see the new strain become more dominant here in LA County,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “I hope everyone will take action to help minimize the impact, especially knowing it will be felt most by those vulnerable to severe illness. Every day I see examples of how people in L.A. County care for others and this is one more way to do so. We have learned a lot over the past few years and it is important that we all put the knowledge to use to help protect our community.”

Health officials noted that people should especially take precautions following holiday gatherings that may have led to transmission of the virus, and could be exacerbated when residents return to crowded workplaces or schools.

“It can take up to 10 days for a person who has COVID-19 to test positive or display symptoms of infection,” according to the county Department of Public Health. “To limit the post-holiday spread of infection, county residents should test before going back to school or work and upon returning, wear a well-fitting, high-filtration mask indoors for at least 10 days, in addition to continuing to mask in indoor public spaces.

“Wearing a mask during the 10-day incubation period for COVID-19 can slow transmission of the virus, minimize disruptions to work and learning, protect the people who are most vulnerable, and help make sure hospitals do not become overwhelmed.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which will resume classes Monday, circulated a message to families this week, recommending that all students and employees get tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to campus.

“We also encourage testing the week of Jan. 16,” according to the district. “Rapid antigen tests were provided to schools and offices. Please contact your principal or supervisor if you need a test. Thank you for doing your part to keep everyone safe.”

COVID infection rates in the county have been declining in recent weeks, but health officials noted that a “significant number” of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still being reported regularly.

The seven-day average daily case count was 2,111 as of Friday, down about 11% from the previous week. The average daily number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals was 1,247 as of Friday, up from 1,207 the previous week. The county is also reporting an average of 20 virus-related deaths per day, up from 16 a week earlier.

On Friday, the county reported another 2,101 infections, pushing the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,646,917. The number of new cases reported each day is an undercount of actual virus activity because many residents rely on at-home tests without reporting the results, while others don’t test at all.

Another 24 COVID-related deaths were announced Friday, giving the county an overall death toll of 34,807.

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According to state figures, there were 1,212 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Friday, down sharply from 1,287 on Thursday. Of those patients, 139 were being treated in intensive care units, up slightly from 133 a day earlier.

The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 12.8% as of Thursday, down from a revised 13.2% on Wednesday and below the 14.9% rate from a week ago.

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 only strongly recommended at indoor settings.

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