L.A. County’s daily coronavirus cases continue dramatic decline, but death rate remains high

Los Angeles County’s daily coronavirus case numbers continue to see a dramatic decline, but death rates remain high, health officials said.

The county reported 16,835 new daily COVID-19 cases on Sunday, down from 26,354 cases recorded a week earlier, on Jan. 23, officials said. There were 40 additional deaths reported Sunday; there were 63 on the previous Sunday. Officials caution that the number of cases and deaths may reflect reporting delays over the weekend.

The decline in the daily numbers comes as numerous family gatherings and community events are scheduled to mark the Lunar New Year this coming week. And the winner of the L.A. Rams-San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday will earn a trip to the Super Bowl — scheduled for Feb. 13 in Inglewood.

“For residents who are at high risk, including those older, immunocompromised, or with underlying health conditions, gatherings can be especially risky given the still high rates of transmission,” Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director, said in a statement.

Though the daily coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations continue to decline, the county’s daily COVID-19 death rate on Sunday remained at high levels not seen in more than 10 months. The number of related deaths lag behind hospitalizations.

In the last few days, the county has been averaging 61 to 68 COVID-19 deaths a day, a rate not seen since March 2021 and nearly double the peak death rate from the summer Delta surge, which was around 35 deaths a day.

The latest death rate is more than four times higher than what was reported heading into Christmas, which was about 15 deaths a day.

But the latest figure still remains well below the heights of last winter’s peak, of about 240 deaths a day.

L.A. County’s trends are roughly reflective of national trends. The U.S. is averaging about 2,300 COVID-19 deaths a day, higher than the summer peak of about 1,900 deaths a day but below last winter’s peak of 3,400 deaths a day.

The high death rates underscore just how many unvaccinated people are still vulnerable to the coronavirus. Unvaccinated people are 22 times more likely to die than boosted individuals, according to the California Department of Public Health.

As of Sunday, L.A. County is now averaging about 22,000 new cases a day over the last week, according to a Times analysis of county data. That’s down roughly half of the Omicron peak recorded earlier this month. Still, the case rate remains above last winter’s peak of 16,000 cases a day, a reason why officials are still urging people to be cautious due to high rates of transmission.

The number of people in L.A. County with recorded coronavirus infections this month has been breathtaking. According to a Times analysis of state data, the county had recorded more than 910,000 coronavirus cases for the first 27 days of January, exceeding the number of cases tallied in all of 2021, which was about 888,000.

The number of coronavirus-positive patients in L.A. County’s hospitals continued to drop. There were 3,852 coronavirus-positive patients as of Saturday, a decline of about 20% from what appears to be the Omicron peak of 4,814 recorded on Jan. 19, according to data released Sunday. The latest number far exceeds the peak in the summer surge of 1,790 but is well below the all-time peak of 8,098 recorded last winter.

The number of coronavirus-positive patients in intensive care in the county has also stabilized in recent days. There were 794 coronavirus-positive ICU patients on Jan. 23, and 759 on Saturday.

Although L.A. County is seeing declines in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the San Joaquin Valley’s intensive care units are seeing deteriorating conditions. The San Joaquin Valley’s pandemic trends tend to lag behind those of Southern California.

Available ICU capacity in the San Joaquin Valley has fallen under 10% for five consecutive days, and surge protocols have been activated, “which allows flexibility to transfer patients to hospitals with additional ICU capacity,” the state Department of Public Health said Friday.

“ICUs in the San Joaquin Valley, where vaccination rates are lower, are nearing capacity. Californians will get through this latest surge by continuing to follow the science, including by getting vaccinated and boosted, which is the safest way to protect yourself from the virus,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state health and human services secretary, said in a statement.

On Friday, L.A. County health officials issued a health advisory warning about low vaccination rates among children age 5 to 11. Only about 30% of children in this age group have received at least one dose of vaccine, a concerning finding given that coronavirus-positive hospitalizations among children in this age group have increased from 2 per week in mid-November to 23 per week in mid-January.

Most of the recent hospitalizations of children age 5 to 11 have occurred among children not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Among the 49 children in this age group hospitalized in the first 20 days of January, only four were fully vaccinated.

The lowest rates of child vaccination have been in the poorest neighborhoods of L.A. County.

San Francisco has had a higher rate of vaccinations in this age group. In San Francisco, 73% of children age 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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