Average daily Covid-19 case counts in LA County have dropped to under 7,000 compared to more than 15,000 at the beginning of January, but health officials warn that the ongoing spike is far from over.

“It’s too soon to tell if we’re actually seeing a significant decline in the surge,” said County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer. “We are very hopeful that the actions taken by many are starting to work. Unfortunately, even if cases are beginning to decline these numbers are still really high.”

Ferrer said the current case numbers will continue to drive overcrowding in hospitals as Covid-19 remains rampant “in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods and really across every corner of this county”.

An encouraging sign is the decrease in testing positivity rates. The seven day average positivity rate dropped to 14 percent on Wednesday compared to over 20 percent on Dec. 31, 2020.

The County reported 262 deaths on Wednesday bringing the total to 14,384. While the seven day average of deaths has begun to decline slightly, it still represents an increase of 1200 percent since the surge began in November, according to Ferrer.

On Wednesday the County began providing vaccines to those 65 or over in addition to the vaccines being offered to healthcare workers and skilled nursing home residents and staff.

The County’s online appointment system temporarily crashed on Tuesday afternoon due to the influx of seniors seeking vaccines while the call center was backlogged with calls.

Ferrer urged residents to continue checking the website for canceled appointments. The Health Department will continue to release appointments as they become available and is working to expand the capacity of its vaccination website and call center.

“We have built through a very successful public and private partnership, a robust system that is capable of vaccinating a large number of LA County residents in a safe, fair and equitable manner. “The biggest challenge we face is not one of process or capacity, but of supply,” said Ferrer.

The total number of L.A. County residents currently eligible to receive a vaccine includes 1.4 million people over the age of 65 and between 700,000 and 800,000 healthcare workers.

As of Wednesday, the County has received 850,650 doses, representing an ability to deliver two doses to 425,325 people.

“Our ability to protect even more LA County residents in the coming weeks and months is entirely dependent and constrained by the amount of vaccine we receive each week,” said Ferrer.

County health officials also provided an update on the two Covid-19 variants discovered to be circulating in the state.

The UK variant, which scientists have labeled as B117, is circulating in the County and is estimated to spread at least 50 percent faster although there is no evidence it causes an increased risk of death.

“It is important to note that if there’s more transmission, there are more cases, and we’ve all seen from our tables and trend lines that more cases eventually lead to more deaths,” said Ferrer in regards to the UK variant.

Experts predict this variant could become dominant in the United States in March.

County officials are also monitoring the Denmark variant labeled as L452R, which has been found in California.

“It is not known at this point whether this variant is more transmissible, but there is concern about its mutations which include a spike protein,” said Ferrer.

Ferrer urged all residents to minimize the risks posed by mutations by following County health guidelines: wear a mask, maintain physical distance, sanitize everything and avoid mingling with any non-household members.

Clara@smdp.com