LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles County reported 34,448 new positive COVID-19 tests and 16 additional deaths associated with the virus Jan. 8, amid an accelerated surge in transmission driven by the Omicron variant.
The county has seen more than 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 7 days, the highest number in one week since the beginning of the pandemic.
"As the surge continues, we ask residents and businesses to continue following the public health safety measures that we know reduce spread and keep people safe," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday.
"This includes wearing a medical grade mask that is more protective against the Omicron variant and not spending time around others who are unmasked. These upgraded masks can be a surgical mask or an N95 or KN95 respirator mask."
Officials also urged residents to reconsider attending high-risk activities, including indoor activities where individuals are unmasked for long periods of time, and crowded outdoor events.
The county's rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 20.4 percent as of Saturday. Overall, more than 10 million individuals have been tested, with 17 percent of people testing positive to date, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals surged by nearly 300 people in one day, rising to an even 3,200, according to the latest state figures.
The number of those patients in intensive care was 411, up from 391 on Friday and 352 on Thursday.
Many of those patients entered the hospital for another reason and only discovered they had the coronavirus after a mandated COVID test, according to local officials.
And while still well short of the peak hospitalization numbers seen last winter—when more than 8,000 COVID-positive patients filled hospitals—the rising number is still generating concern. Health care facilities are finding themselves increasingly short-staffed, in part because of COVID infections among health care workers.
According to the county health department, 973 infections among health care workers were reported over the past week, a jump of 47 percent from the prior period. That rise comes despite the relatively high rate of vaccinations among health care workers—showing the power of the Omicron variant of the virus to infect even vaccinated residents.
The state is requiring all health care workers in the state to receive a booster dose of vaccine by Feb. 1. Those who do not receive the booster must be tested twice weekly.
The county set a single-day record for COVID-19 infections on Friday, reporting over 43,000 new cases. Saturday's data brought the county's cumulative totals to over 1.9 million and over 27,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.
To support local communities with additional testing facilities amid the national surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced the activation of the California National Guard.
"California has led the country's fight against COVID-19, implementing first-in-the-nation public health measures that have helped save tens of thousands of lives," Newsom said. "We continue to support communities in their response to COVID by bolstering testing capacity."
The announcement comes as Omicron continues to spread rapidly across the globe, accounting for at least 80 percent of COVID-19 cases in California.
Surging infection numbers prompted the county this week to amend its public health order, requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
The order, issued Wednesday, will take effect Jan. 17 and requires employers to provide affected workers with "well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks, or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks."
The revised order also amended the definition of outdoor "mega events," where masking is required, to 5,000 or more attendees; and the definition of indoor "mega" events to 500 or more people. The numbers align with those in the state's health order. The county's order also "recommends" that food and drink be consumed only in designated dining areas.
The upgraded mask requirement for county workplaces mirrors an order released late last week by the county for K-12 schools, requiring teachers and staff to wear higher-grade face coverings. USC announced this week it will require all students and staff to wear higher-grade masks when in-person classes resume.
According to county figures released Thursday, of the more than 6.4 million fully vaccinated people in the county, nearly 200,000 have tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 3.1 percent, while over 3,000 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.05 percent. A total of 625 fully vaccinated people have died, for a rate of 0.01 percent.
The testing-positivity rate, however, may be artificially low due to the number of people who use take-home tests and don't report the results.
Overall, 79 percent of eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 71 percent are fully vaccinated. Of the county's overall population of 10.3 million people, 75 percent have received at least one dose, and 67 percent are fully vaccinated.