Health officials on Saturday reported more encouraging signs that the Omicron wave may be past its peak in Los Angeles County, though the coronavirus is still circulating widely and a large number of people are becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.
The county saw 39,117 new infections Saturday, pushing the total for the week above the quarter-million mark, officials said. That's a roughly 13% decline from the 291,000 infections of the previous week.
Hospitalizations continued their downward trend, falling to 4,698 on Saturday. That's down from 4,814 on Thursday and 4,792 on Friday.
Officials also reported 72 COVID-19 deaths Saturday, the second-highest figure in the last seven days. L.A. County recorded 415 COVID-19 deaths in the last week. Deaths tend to lag behind increases in new cases and hospitalizations by several weeks.
The test positivity rate remains high at 16%, though it's slightly below last week's figure, officials said.
The small decreases in new cases, hospitalizations and the test positivity rate suggest the coronavirus is no longer spreading exponentially, officials said. However, they added, the Omicron variant is highly transmissible and thousands of people are still becoming seriously ill.
"We will need to remain cautious these next few weeks while transmission remains at the highest levels we have ever seen," L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "With an average of 35,000 new cases identified each day, it is very easy for any one of us to encounter an infected person during the week."
Ferrer advised Angelenos to avoid crowds, stay a safe distance from others, wash or sanitize hands frequently and wear a high-quality mask — an N95, KN95 or KF94.
Unvaccinated people remain at highest risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19, but those who are vaccinated can still get breakthrough infections and suffer severe illness, particularly if they have chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to start with. Studies show that booster shots are essential for maximizing one's protection against Omicron.
During the week that ended Jan. 9, the risk of getting COVID-19 was 4.1 times higher for unvaccinated Californians than for those who got the shots. In addition, unvaccinated residents were six times more likely to be hospitalized and 17.8 times more likely to die of the disease, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Public Health.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, L.A. County has confirmed nearly 2.5 million coronavirus cases and 28,417 COVID-19 deaths.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.