LA COVID spread rises, could fall out of ‘low’ risk

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — As the spread of COVID-19 continues to rise, Los Angeles County could be downgraded from the federal government’s “low” risk rating to “moderate” this week — meaning virus-related hospitalizations will rise dramatically. Wearing masks indoors would again be mandatory.

what you need to know

  • La County was placed in the “low” risk category in cases for weeks after the winter flood ended
  • But with the recent surge in highly transmissible variants, infection numbers have been slowly increasing
  • Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the risk assessment change could come later this week
  • However, Ferrer told the county board of supervisors that she remains confident the county will avoid sliding into the “high” COVID activity category

The county, like most of the country, was placed in the “low” risk category for weeks after the winter surge in cases ended — a reflection of the steady decline in cases and hospitalizations of virus-positive patients.

But with the recent rise of highly transmissible variants, particularly BA.2 and the newer offshoot BA.2.12.1, infection numbers have been slowly increasing.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the county board of directors on Tuesday that the seven-day cumulative median rate of new cases is now 185 per 100,000 people — up from last Thursday’s rate of 176. When that rate reaches 200 per 100,000 people, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will move the county from low to moderate COVID stage.

Ferrer said that could happen later this week. The CDC updates its ratings every Thursday.

For residents, the postponement would not have an immediate impact because the county has already implemented the CDC’s recommendations for areas in the moderate category — such as wearing masks on public transit, widespread availability of immunizations, and guidance on improving ventilation throughout indoor settings.

However, if the county experiences a sudden spike in COVID-related hospital admissions, it could place the area in the “high” risk category, meaning a return of indoor mask-wearing mandates.

While the county has seen a slight increase in virus-positive hospitalized patients over the past week, the number is still well below levels that would result in a move to the high category. According to CDC guidelines, counties will move to high in the moderate category when the rate of new virus-related hospitalizations reaches 10 per 100,000 population or when 10% of the county’s occupied hospital beds are occupied by COVID-positive patients.

Ferrer said the county’s current rate of new admissions is 3.1 per 100,000 residents and the rate of hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients is just under 2%. While both of those numbers are well within the CDC’s guidelines for the medium category, she noted that the current rate of new registrations is 1.5 times higher than it was a month ago.

However, she told the board that she remains confident the county will avoid sliding into the “high” COVID activity category.

“While we are discouraged that the pandemic is not over, I am reassured that with the resources available, we can continue to enjoy our time together and participating in the activities we love,” she said.

The county on Tuesday reported an additional 2,233 COVID infections, bringing the cumulative total throughout the pandemic to 2,917,892. Another eight deaths were also confirmed, bringing the county’s total virus-related death toll to 32,045.

According to government data, there were 327 virus-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, up from 312 on Monday. The number of patients treated in intensive care remained constant at 44.

Health officials have noted in recent months that most COVID-positive patients in hospitals were actually admitted for something other than the virus, and many only discovered they were infected when they were tested on admission.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus also remained steady at 2.6%.

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