Los Angeles County public health officials on Sunday reported 5,925 new cases of the coronavirus and 124 related deaths, a further sign that the outbreak may be leveling off but that comes at a time when the state has begun relaxing restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
Case numbers tend to be lower on the weekends because not all laboratories report results. Still, the data bolster evidence that the region is emerging from a vicious surge that started in late October and nearly overwhelmed area hospitals.
Hospitalizations have also continued to decline since peaking earlier this month. There were 5,398 COVID-19 patients in L.A. County hospitals as of Saturday, a decrease of about 26% percent from two weeks before, when there were 7,322 patients.
“Although some restrictions were just lifted in our County, we are still in a very dangerous period in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said in a statement. “We all want our businesses currently operating to remain open and more to reopen safely in the future. Our case rates must continue to come down.”
The apparent signs of progress came as the state took steps toward reopening some businesses that had been shuttered by the pandemic.
On Monday, California officials lifted regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders across the state, returning counties to the color-coded tier system that assigns local risk levels based on case numbers and rates of positive test results for coronavirus infections.
Most areas, including Southern California, continue to be classified under the purple “widespread” risk tier, which permits hair salons to offer limited services indoors but restricts many other nonessential indoor business operations. As part of the shift, restaurants were also permitted to reopen for outdoor dining.
But Ferrer urged people to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and to avoid gathering with people outside their households.
“Because some sectors have reopened, it doesn’t mean that the risk for community transmission has gone away; it hasn’t, and each of us needs to make very careful choices about what we do and how we do it,” she said.
The new numbers bring the county’s total to 1,116,892 cases of the virus, and 16,770 people have died, according to The Times’ tracker.
Ferrer also warned that health officials had confirmed a second case in Los Angeles County of the U.K. coronavirus variant, which spreads more easily. New research strengthens the case that the COVID-19 vaccines being administered across the United States and elsewhere should protect against the new variant.
Still, Ferrer urged the public to remain vigilant in guarding against the spread of the virus as the race to vaccinate the population continues. Those currently eligible for the vaccine include front-line healthcare workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, and county residents age 65 and older.
“This virus is strong, and we are now concerned about variants and what these will mean in our region,” she said. The presence of the U.K. variant in Los Angeles County “means virus transmission can happen more easily, and residents and businesses must more diligently implement and follow all of the personal protective actions and safety measures put in place.”
Orange County reported 1,355 new cases of the virus and 44 deaths Saturday as its hospitalizations also continued to drop, to 1,412 patients, a decrease of about 28% from two weeks before.