LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- COVID-19 infections continue surging in Los Angeles County, with the rising rates of new cases and hospital admissions again pushing the county into the "medium" COVID activity level, the public health director said Thursday, adding that another indoor masking mandate could be imposed soon.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county is now averaging more than 2,700 new COVID infections per day, a 180% increase since Nov. 1. Daily virus-related hospital admissions are at 192 per day, a 200% jump since Nov. 1.
"There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us," Ferrer said.
"Given both the increases in hospitalizations and the lack of certainty in the winter trajectory for COVID-19, continuing some common-sense mitigation strategies that we know work to limit transmission and illness, including masking and being up to date on vaccines and boosters, remains a very sensible approach."
Los Angeles County's weekly rate of new cases rose to 185 per 100,000 residents, which was enough to push the county from the "low" virus activity level to the "medium" community level, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The move to "medium" did not prompt any immediate changes to public health mandates, such as indoor masking -- which remains "strongly recommended" by the county.
"However, it does signal that case rates and hospitalizations are elevated, and we could be in the 'high' community level as soon as next week," she said.
The county would move into the "high" level if the weekly case rate reaches 200 per 100,000 residents. At the current rate of increases, the county will almost assuredly reach that level by next week, Ferrer noted.
Moving to the "high" level will push the county back to the brink of another universal indoor mask-wearing mandate, although it would not be immediate. Ferrer said the mandate would be issued if two hospital metrics reach CDC thresholds -- a daily average admission rate of more than 10 per 100,000 residents and a greater than 10% rate of staffed inpatient beds being occupied by COVID patients.
As of Thursday, the hospital admission rate already exceeds that threshold, at 11.9 new admissions per 100,000 residents. The percentage of inpatient beds occupied by COVID patients in the county was 5.6% as of Thursday -- still well below the 10% threshold.
Ferrer again noted that the actual number of COVID infections in the community is likely much higher than the official numbers reflect -- thanks to the prevalent use of at-home tests that aren't reported to the county, and due to the number of people who are likely sick but don't get tested at all.
On Thursday, the county reported 4,493 new cases of COVID-19, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,547,200.
The Department of Public Health also reported 14 additional deaths associated with COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the cumulative death toll to 34,199. Officials have said the majority of COVID-related fatalities occur in the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.
As of Thursday, there were 1,164 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals, up from 1,132 on Wednesday. Of those patients, 121 were being treated in intensive care units, down slightly from 122 on Wednesday.
Health officials have said previously that roughly 40% of virus patients were actually admitted to hospitals for COVID-related issues, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but tested positive at the hospital.
The seven-day daily average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 13.4% as of Thursday, up from a revised 12% a week ago.
While indoor mask wearing is only "strongly recommended" in the county, 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 locations where they are required by the operator.
Health officials have been warning about a possible surge not only of COVID-19 during the winter months, but also of flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Authorities have repeatedly urged residents to ensure they are up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and to get a flu shot.
A fully vaccinated person can still contract and transmit COVID, but health officials say the vaccines offer protection against developing severe symptoms that can result in hospitalization and even death.