LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Local health officials reported some positive news on COVID-19 rates Thursday, as Los Angeles County has dropped from the federal government's "medium" category of coronavirus activity to the "low" level.
The news comes as a welcome surprise after health experts expressed concerns about a possible surge following the winter holidays, as we've seen the previous two years.
"We have a very different January than expected and for that I'm grateful," county public health director Barbara Ferrer said.
Ferrer says since the beginning of January, we have seen a generally consistent downward trend in case numbers and hospital admissions.
But the good news was tempered by a new, somber milestone as the county has now passed 35,000 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic, and continues to log new deaths every day, as well as many new infections.
On Thursday, the county reported another 1,502 COVID-19 infections and 31 more virus-related deaths.
The new cases lifted the county's overall total from throughout the pandemic to 3,665,365.
Health officials have stressed that the official number of cases is an undercount, due to the large number of people who rely on at-home tests without reporting the results to the county. Other people don't test at all, despite being possibly infected, officials said.
The 31 new deaths gave the county a cumulative virus-related death toll of 35,079.
Reported deaths may trend lower as the CDC considers revising the guidelines for how they're counted.
Ferrer says vaccines played a role in bringing the metrics down.
"Overall, people who were unvaccinated were nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized, compared to people who had the bivalent booster," she said.
According to state figures, there were 918 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Thursday, down from 958 Wednesday and continuing a downward trend from the past week. Of those patients, 92 were being treated in intensive care units, down from 104 a day earlier.
The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 5.7% as of Thursday, also continuing a gradual decline.
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. Otherwise, they are only strongly recommended at indoor settings.
City News Service Inc. contributed to this report.