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Rising COVID Hospitalizations Threaten To Raise LA's Risk Level To High

A line graph showing the rise in COVID-19 related hospitalizations which is projected to hit the CDC's high community threshold on July 14, 2022.
(Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health)
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This Thursday, for a second day in a row, more than 900 COVID-19-positive patients are hospitalized in Los Angeles County. That’s a 78% increase from one month ago.

If the high rate of hospitalizations continues to climb, county health officials predict the community risk level could hit the “high” threshold as soon as next week, and a public indoor mask mandate could return by the end of the month.

On Wednesday, health officials reported 920 hospitalizations, and that figure rose to 989 on Thursday. About 40% of the patients were hospitalized with COVID-19-related illnesses, while the other 60% were in the hospital for another reason but were found to be positive through routine hospital admission screening.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said emergency rooms and urgent care centers are also reporting more COVID-positive patients.

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If the upward trend of coronavirus-positive patients continues at the same pace, the county will move into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high” virus activity category as soon as July 14, Ferrer said.

“BA.4 and BA.5 (the most recent and infectious omicron subvariants) are making it harder to slow the spread," Ferrer said at a press conference Thursday. "We know there's a relationship between increased cases and increased hospital admissions. I think it's likely at some point this month that we might move into that high community level.”

If the county remains in the “high” category for two consecutive weeks, Ferrer said a public indoor mask mandate would be reinstated on July 29, a move recommended by the CDC.

Since early May, the number of Angelenos testing positive while hospitalized has slowly been rising, moving L.A. County from the CDC's "low” to the “medium” community risk level on May 19.

The county has remained in the “medium” risk level since then. It will move into the “high” category if the average daily rate of new positive hospital admissions rises above 10 per 100,000 residents, or if the percentage of staffed hospital beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 tops 10%.

Both figures have been rising over the past several weeks, with the rate of new admissions reaching 8.4 per 100,000 residents as of Thursday. The portion of hospital beds in the county occupied by virus patients was 4.4% as of Thursday.

A table showing the CDC COVID-19 community risk levels of low, medium and high and the respective indicators. LA County could reach the high risk level as soon as July 14, 2022.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

“I think what CDC is trying to get us to acknowledge is that if you've got a lot of cases, and you've got increases in your hospital metrics, it's time to start thinking about layering some of those safety measures, and this is a pretty simple safety measure to layer in,” Ferrer said.

About 5,100 new daily cases were reported last week. Ferrer said the case number is an undercount since it does not include positive over-the-counter tests that are generally not reported to the health department.

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The seven-day average daily case rate has held steady at 50 cases per 100,000 residents, while test positivity rose to almost 17%.

Ferrer said more people are dying from the virus. An average of nine deaths were reported each day last week.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.