LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The number of people hospitalized with a coronavirus infection in Los Angeles County increased by 19 to 1,220, according to the latest state data.
Of those patients hospitalized as of Saturday, 153 were being treated in intensive care, up from 146 Friday.
The latest numbers come one day after local health officials announced 3,006 new coronavirus cases in the county and 23 additional virus-related deaths while urging older people to take particular precautions this holiday season against spread of the virus.
A day after the county moved out of the federal government's "high" COVID-19 activity category and into the "medium" level, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Friday warned that "death rates ... continue to climb in Los Angeles County, especially among older people."
Of the 23 new deaths reported Friday, 14 were people 80 years old or older, while six were 65 to 79, one was between 50 and 64 and one was between 30 and 49 -- with all of them having underlying health conditions, the health department said.
The seven-day daily average testing positivity rate in the county Friday was 10.22% -- down from 11.7% Thursday, and about the same as the 10.2% figure of a week ago
Friday's case rate was 177 per 100,000 people -- down from Thursday's average of 180 per 100,000 residents and 204 per 100,000 a week ago.
"Public Health officials are concerned that traveling and gathering during the holidays will result in increased transmission and severe illness which would place greater stress on the county's hospitals and health care system," the health department said in a statement.
The numbers announced Thursday dropped the county below the threshold of 200 per 100,000 residents for the "high" community activity level set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, the county health department warned Friday that people should be careful during holiday gatherings and "layer" protections to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions, especially for older people, as well as to limit additional stress on health care providers and hospitals.
"To help protect older people and people who are immuno-compromised or have underlying health conditions in your family, at your jobs, and in the community, Los Angeles County residents should continue to mask when indoors and follow other health measures," the health department said.
"Having plenty of well-fitting, high-filtration masks on hand, preferably N95s, KN95s, or KF94s, will help limit transmission."
Vaccines remain the best protection against severe COVID-19 illness, the agency said.
"In addition to wearing masks when indoors and getting the updated booster, there is still time to get the seasonal flu vaccine, since flu season generally lasts into the spring," the health department said.
"When choosing activities or planning an event, it also makes sense to look for outdoor options. If it doesn't work to be outside, open windows and doors to increase ventilation inside."
On Thursday, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county over the past week averaged about 2,600 new COVID infections per day, a roughly 12% decline from 3,000 per day the previous week. Despite the decline, she stressed that "transmission does remain elevated" in the county, noting again that the official case numbers are an undercount due to the widespread use of at-home tests -- the results of which are not reported to the county -- and due to people who don't get tested at all.
Moving from the "high" to the "medium" category will not have any impact on public health restrictions, although it decreases the likelihood of the county re-imposing an indoor mask-wearing mandate, which Ferrer previously said could be done if case rates and hospitalization numbers continued to increase.
Ferrer warned Thursday, however, that given continued high transmission, "if the case rate increases even a little bit, we would again be moved into `high."'
"It is possible L.A. County will continue to move back and forth between `medium' and `high' for the next few weeks," she said.
Mask wearing continues to be "strongly recommended" by the county at indoor public settings. But Ferrer said that even absent a mandate, residents should start wearing them, given the elevated rate of transmission.
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.
Ferrer said the county was averaging 178 new COVID-related hospital admissions per day as of Thursday, about a 10% drop from a week ago, but she said the number is still at its highest level since April, even higher than during the summer surge in infections.
The number of available staffed hospital beds in the county, meanwhile, continues to remain at its lowest level in four years, averaging 210 during the month of December. She said bed availability is impacted by both the number of patients and the level of hospital staffing.
"With higher rates of respiratory illness, many staff are getting sick themselves," she said.
She noted the vast majority of deaths are occurring in people aged 70 and older, reflecting the population that is also being hospitalized due to the virus at the highest levels.
Health officials have estimated that roughly 40% of patients with the virus were admitted for actual COVID-related ailments, while others were hospitalized for other reasons, with many only learning they were infected upon admission.