LA County’s COVID hospitalizations top 500 again

The number of COVID-19-positive patients at Los Angeles County hospitals went back over 500 on Friday, Nov. 11,  as health officials continue warning of another possible cold-weather surge in cases.

There were 502 COVID-19-positive patients in county hospitals, 38 more than the previous day, according to the latest state figures. Of those patients, 51 were being treated in intensive care, up one from the previous day.

Some of the patients entered the hospital for other reasons and discovered they had the coronavirus after a test while admitted.

The latest figures come as county officials are reporting increases in COVID-19 infection rates. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday that the county had an average of about 1,300 new COVID-19 cases per day last week, up from about 1,000 per day the previous week.

The daily average case numbers, she said, have been “slowly but steadily increasing” since the beginning of November.

The rate of infections has also risen, reaching a weekly average of 86 cases per 100,000 residents last week, up from 65 per 100,000 residents two weeks ago, Ferrer said. If that average rises to 100 cases per 100,000 residents per week, the county will again “strongly recommend” that people wear masks indoors. Indoor mask wearing is currently only a matter of personal preference, unless an individual location or business opts to require them.

New case numbers for Friday were not yet available.

Ferrer on Thursday also noted a rise in the average daily number of COVID-19-related hospital admissions, with the average rising to 77 last week from 65 the previous week.

Virus-related deaths are averaging about seven per day, down from 10-12 per day in early November. But, Ferrer said, deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning the numbers could rise in coming weeks in response to the increases in infections and hospitalizations.

Additional deaths reported Friday were also not yet available.

Health officials, though, have been expressing concern about a possible winter COVID-19 surge, mirroring similar increases seen the past two years during the winter months. They have noted that cooler temperatures lead to more people spending time indoors in more crowded, less-ventilated spaces — conditions that are ripe for virus spread.

Two recently identified variants of the coronavirus —BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 — are beginning to spread more rapidly in the county, Ferrer said, now representing about 17% of all virus specimens that undergo special sequencing to identify specific infection strains. That’s more than double the rate from mid-October.

Federal health authorities believe the BQ variants are likely to “increase rapidly” in coming weeks, Ferrer said, and could soon represent more than one-third of all infections.

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“Many are predicting these strains, which are highly transmissible, are likely to drive an increase in cases this fall and winter,” Ferrer said.

The currently available “bivalent” vaccine booster — which is engineered specifically to counter omicron-based variants of the virus — are believed to be effective against the BQ variants, Ferrer said. But, she added, the rate of eligible residents receiving the new booster remains very low, and health officials are working to increase their public outreach efforts to encourage people to get the shot.

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