L.A. County health officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ as COVID-19 hospitalizations decline and deaths stabilize

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With COVID-19 hospitalizations declining and deaths stable in Los Angeles County, officials on Monday said they were “cautiously optimistic” that efforts to slow the spread of the virus are working.

The county recorded another 1,920 coronavirus cases and 19 new COVID-19 deaths Monday, bringing the countywide case total to 210,424 with 4,996 deaths. Though officials said they believe the one-day increase is a “fairly accurate” count, there are likely past cases that haven’t been counted due to technical issues with the state’s electronic lab system.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health said Sunday that the state expects to send the county the backlog of lab reports “over the upcoming days.”

County Health Director Barbara Ferrer has called the technical issue “troubling,” explaining that it affects the county’s contact tracing efforts.

The glitch did not affect the county’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers — a key indicator of the county’s progress in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, according to health officials.

Hospitalization numbers have declined since spiking in mid-June and surging in July, when the county saw a record number of COVID-19 patients flood into hospitals, with more than 2,000 people being treated in hospitals for the virus each day.

There were 1,514 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in L.A. County Monday, 31% of them in intensive care units and 18% on ventilators.

“We’re averaging about 1,600 daily hospitalizations,” Ferrer said. “This is significant progress in a matter of a week, and it only happened because of all the work everyone’s been doing.”

COVID-19 deaths have been stable in the county, but officials are now seeing numbers beginning to decline, Ferrer said.

The county averaged about 41 daily COVID-19 deaths for several days towards the end of July, but the daily average is now at 31 deaths for the start of August. 

At the start of the pandemic through the beginning of May, about half of all the cases in California were in L.A. County. But the trend started to shift in mid-June, and now the county accounts for less than 37% of cases in the state, the health director said.

Ferrer said that despite complications from the missing lab data, the number of new cases reported each day over last few days have stabilized well below the average of 3,000 daily cases the county was seeing in mid-July.

“It’s still a very high number, but it does show that we’re making some progress,” she said.

The county’s seven-day average positivity rate spiked at the end of July, but has since dropped back down to about 7.3%, Ferrer said, noting that the department will adjust the rate once it gets the missing data from the state.

It’s unclear how fixing the reporting issue will affect the county’s coronavirus trends seen in recent weeks.

Of the cases the county does have confirmed, younger residents continue to make up the majority of new infections reported. People under 50 years old accounted for 69% of the 1,789 cases reported Sunday.

 “As we begin to see the curve flattening again, I want to urge everyone to remain cautious and attentive to the reality of COVID-19; it is not going away any time soon. If we return to life as we knew it before the pandemic hit, we will see cases, hospitalizations and deaths increase once again,” Ferrer said in a statement Sunday.

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