Registered nurse Shawna Gibson prepares an IV and medications for a COVID-19 patient at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles on Aug. 13. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
In a promising sign that hospitalizations could be leveling off, Los Angeles County reported only two new patients with COVID-19 following four straight days of declines, according to state figures released Monday.
The potential plateau comes after weeks of steady increases, with hospitals earlier this month describing unsustainable conditions amid a surge fueled by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The county on Monday reported 1,724 COVID-positive patients in hospitals, up from 1,722 patients Sunday. The numbers are still some of the highest since the waning days of the devastating fall and winter surge, but could indicate a sea change.
“It appears that we may be getting into a plateau phase of this fourth surge here in California,” Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, medical epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said Monday.
“I think it shows that California continues to be a leader in the nation in terms of the application of preventative measures to reduce the spread of COVID, such as mandates for vaccination, ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine, and, in many places, even mandating masking in indoor settings,” he added.
The rolling case positivity average has also ticked down slightly to 2.8%, compared to 3.4% a week ago.
Still concerning are intensive care numbers, which continue to climb: The county reported 454 patients in the ICU on Monday, up from 439 Sunday.
Officials also said that younger adults ages 18 to 49 are now the most likely to get infected with the coronavirus. As of early August, for every 100,000 vaccinated younger adults, nearly 150 were getting infected weekly.
And though there have been some breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, case rates remain much worse among unvaccinated people.
County officials are hoping that Monday’s landmark approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could lead to a wave of vaccinations — either through more mandates or by encouraging some who are vaccination-hesitant to move forward with their shots.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and remains the most powerful tool we have to both lower our risk of infection and protect against serious illness and death from COVID-19 if infected,” L.A. county health officer Muntu Davis said, adding: “We are grateful to the many scientists and researchers who have worked tirelessly to develop and evaluate the vaccines during the most challenging public health crisis of our lifetime.”
The Pfizer vaccine is the first of the three available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. to receive FDA approval.
All three vaccines, including those by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, were operating under an emergency use authorization. Monday’s FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine applies only to people 16 and older, although more approvals are expected in the weeks to come.
To date, nearly 65% of L.A. County residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and 56.4% are fully vaccinated, according to The Times tracker.
The county last week surpassed 25,000 deaths due to COVID-19. With seven new deaths reported Monday, the overall death toll is 25,078.
Despite what could be a leveling off, experts have emphasized the importance of vaccinating as many people as possible and continuing to wear face masks in order to prevent further spread of the virus. The Delta variant is highly transmissible, and a fall surge driven by waning immunity and more time spent indoors is still a possibility.
“We’re seeing a plateauing, but it is at a very high level,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and an infectious diseases specialist at UC San Francisco. “It’s like walking on a tight-wire rope at a high level, so if we fall, we could fall hard.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.