LOS ANGELES, CA — About 65,000 Los Angeles County students and staffers returning from winter break last week tested positive for the coronavirus, the county Department of Public Health confirmed Tuesday. The spike in cases comes as COVID hospitalizations deaths climb countywide.
In all, the county confirmed positive COVID-19 cases at 1,032 K-12 schools compared to a month earlier when there were 665 campuses with infections. Notably, there were only three new school outbreaks last week. It's a sign that the bulk of the 65,000 school cases are from the spread of the virus in the general community. Health officials did see a promising sign among the stark numbers.
County health officials said the rate of students and staff testing positive for the virus was 11% last week, down from 15% the previous week. Overall, the average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus in Los Angeles County rose slightly Wednesday to 16.9% up from 16.3% on Tuesday.
"Keeping our schools available for in-person learning during this Omicron fueled surge is not easy and I commend our school communities for all the work they are doing to keep children and staff safe," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "This is particularly challenging in our elementary schools where, on average, three-quarters of students are not fully vaccinated, making it critically important to use infection control practices to limit spread of a highly infectious variant.
"Prioritizing and ensuring safety at schools during a surge is only possible if all those at the school commit to complying fully with public health measures," she said. "This cannot be accomplished by administrators or staff alone. Wearing a high-grade face mask both indoors and outdoors when around others is absolutely essential, as all evidence points to the effectiveness of well-fitting high-quality masks in limiting spread of virus particles."
She urged parents to ensure their children are participating in school COVID-testing programs, and to follow quarantine and isolation rules.
The spike in hospitalizations across Los Angeles has long been expected. As cases skyrocketed since the holidays, health officials knew hospitalizations would soon follow.
The number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals continued rising Wednesday, with state figures putting the total at 4,799, up from 4,701 on Tuesday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care rose to 700, up from 680 a day earlier.
With increased hospitalizations, higher death totals always follow, and the county reported 59 new virus-related fatalities Wednesday. That brought the county's overall virus death toll to 28,181. Another 30,081 infections were also confirmed, giving the county a cumulative pandemic total of 2,343,821.
While the overall COVID hospitalization number remains below last winter's peak of more than 8,000, health officials stressed that the rising patient population is creating strain at hospitals that were already coping with staffing shortages. Those shortages have been exacerbated by COVID cases among health-care workers, which have also been rising.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose slightly Wednesday, to 16.9%, up from 16.3% on Tuesday. The rate had fallen each day since last week, when it topped 20%.
A month ago, the testing-positivity rate was just 2%.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.