LA County reports highest single-day of new COVID-19 cases, officials warn against Spring travel

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New COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County have climbed above 2,200, the highest single-day total in nearly two weeks, interrupting what has been a generally downward trend in new infection numbers.

Hospitalization numbers, however, continued to fall, and the current rate of people testing positive for the virus in the county dipped to 2.5%, just above the statewide rate of 2.1%, according to numbers released Thursday.

According to state figures, there were 1,341 people hospitalized in the county as of Thursday, with 429 people in intensive care.

But the county reported 2,253 new infections, the highest single-day number since Feb. 20, when 2,393 cases were announced. Health officials said they will be closely monitoring new case numbers and other indicators, in hopes the bump doesn't become a trend.

The new cases, combined with 67 reported by health officials in Long Beach and 13 by Pasadena, lifted the cumulative countywide total since the pandemic began to 1,198,178.

The county also announced another 119 COVID-19 deaths, with Long Beach and Pasadena each adding one additional fatality. The new deaths lifted the county's overall death toll to 21,780.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted Wednesday that the daily numbers of virus deaths have remained in the triple digits, even as other COVID metrics trended downward. She said with hospital numbers continuing to dwindle, she was hopeful that the fatality numbers would also start dropping.

Health officials issued another warning against leisure travel, in light of the upcoming Spring Break, stressing that anyone who travels out of the area is still required to quarantine for 10 days when they return to Los Angeles County.

"We may just be weeks away from reducing transmission in L.A. County enough so that additional reopenings are permitted," Ferrer said in a statement Thursday. "However, with increased case numbers in other states, and more circulating variants of concern, spring travel can lead to another surge that frankly would be almost impossible to tolerate. Travel increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. To avoid this, please postpone travel and continue doing your part to slow the spread so that our recovery journey isn't sidelined."

Ferrer on Wednesday said the county has confirmed the first case of a COVID variant first discovered in Brazil, and the number of cases of a variant that originated in the United Kingdom has shot up to 27, a 50% jump from the 18 cases known as of last week. And a California variant is becoming increasingly dominant, with county officials detecting the mutation in 31 of 55 specimens that were specifically tested for it.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that the first cases of a New York variant have been detected in Southern California, although he did not specify where. The variants are all believed to be more easily passed from person to person, and federal authorities have expressed concern the New York variant may be more resistant to current vaccines.

The emergence of the variants, while not unexpected, is keeping health officials on edge, even as COVID conditions continue improving.

Los Angeles County is on track to exit the restrictive purple tier of the state's four-level economic-reopening road map by late March. If it advances to the less-restrictive red tier, more businesses could be cleared to open, including indoor dining, movie theaters and fitness centers, all at limited capacity.

Figures released by the state Tuesday put the county's adjusted average daily rate of new COVID-19 infections at 7.2 per 100,000 residents. If that number falls to 7 per 100,000 residents and stays at that level for two weeks, the county will be able to move out of the restrictive purple tier of the state's "Blueprint for a Safer Economy," and into the red tier.

Meanwhile, the state announced a major policy shift on Thursday, diverting 40% of all vaccine supplies to people in lower-income communities hard hit by the pandemic. In conjunction with that shift, when the state reaches select milestones in the number of vaccinations in those communities, it will adjust the required case rates to allow counties to more easily advance in the reopening blueprint.

Moving to the red tier of the blueprint would also allow in-person instruction to resume for students in grades 7-12. The county already meets the requirements for in-person classes for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.