LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - The number of people hospitalized in Los Angeles County with COVID-19 rose to its highest level since late February Wednesday, continuing an upward trend that has seen hospitalizations increase by more than 700% since the majority of coronavirus restrictions were lifted in mid-June.
Meanwhile, the county reported another 3,498 COVID-19 infections, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,335,332. Another 28 deaths were also reported, giving the county a pandemic death toll of 24,833.
According to state figures, there were 1,648 people hospitalized in the county with COVID-19, up from 1,573 on Tuesday. The number of people in intensive care rose by 10, reaching 360.
On June 15, when the bulk of COVID-19 health restrictions on public gatherings were lifted, there were 223 people hospitalized in the county.
Health officials have repeatedly pointed to the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 for the increase in cases and hospitalizations, with unvaccinated residents bearing the overwhelming brunt of illnesses.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday hospital patients are overwhelmingly unvaccinated, at about 90%. Between April and July, 96% of the people who died from the virus were unvaccinated, she said.
The county on Wednesday again reported another small uptick in cases among staff and residents at skilled nursing facilities, despite high vaccination rates at such settings.
According to the county, 91 cases were reported among nursing facility residents and staff during the week that ended Aug. 1, up from 69 during the week that ended July 25. Previously, the county had been recording an average of about 20 new cases per week.
County health officials attributed the rise in cases to the increase in transmission of the Delta variant, targeting the relatively low number of unvaccinated staff and residents at nursing facilities while also causing a limited number of so-called "breakthrough" infections of fully vaccinated people. A new state health order will require all workers at health care facilities to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30.
A separate order that took effect Wednesday requires all visitors to hospitals and other health care facilities to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the visit.
"When transmission is at high levels in L.A. County, there are ripple effects that lead to increased cases among healthcare workers, facility residents and visitors," Ferrer said in a statement Wednesday. "By working together to ensure a high level of protection at health-care facilities, we can continue doing our part to keep people who are medically fragile safe. This now means getting vaccinated or tested before visiting anyone at these facilities, or before visiting anyone who is medically fragile in their home. Wearing a well-fitting face mask is another important action visitors must take to protect these most vulnerable individuals."
Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that a revised county health order issued this week will mirror the state's requirement for vaccines for health-care workers. But the county order will be slightly broader than the state's, extending the requirement to emergency medical technicians, paramedics, dental-service workers and home health care workers.
She warned that without a significant increase in vaccinations, infections will continue to rise with the proliferation of the highly infections Delta variant of the virus.
"It's just intolerable to not make good progress given the sort of the dangers the Delta variant is presenting," she said. "We're not plodding along anymore with this virus. This variant is not a plodder. This variant, you know, affects many more people at a time. One person can infect many more people at a time if they're infected with the Delta variant, and that's all we're seeing is the Delta variant. So with this explosion in cases, the best strategy right now from our perspective is to double down on getting more and more people vaccinated."
She also warned that case numbers are likely to continue rising through September, thanks to increased testing requirements at schools and businesses.
"Many of these sites have regular screening testing," she said. "Many of them have testing requirements upon entry and that will have tens of thousands more people getting tested every day. ... It will add cases. We're always glad ... to have people tested and identified early on as positive for COVID because that means we can isolate them and quarantine their close contacts and cut that chain of transmission.
"But it does mean that for most of August and September we're likely to see our case numbers climb," Ferrer said. "The hope here will be that our test positivity does not."
As of Wednesday, the county's rolling average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 4.6%, down from 6.6% last week.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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