LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The number of Los Angeles County hospital patients infected with COVID-19 crawled above the 600 mark again Wednesday, while health officials reported nearly 5,700 new virus cases.

According to state figures, there were 606 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, up from 579 on Tuesday. Of those patients, 65 were being treated in intensive care, up from 60 a day earlier.

Health officials have noted that many COVID-positive patients were actually admitted to hospitals for a reason other than the virus, and often they only learned they were infected upon admission.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that 40% of current COVID-positive patients in the county are being treated specifically for COVID. The other 60% were admitted for other health reasons. She has noted, however, that all virus-positive patients require extra infection-control measures at hospitals, regardless of the reason they were admitted. 

The county on Wednesday reported 5,693 new infections, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,047,469. Nine more virus-related fatalities were also announced, giving the county an overall death toll of 32,236.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose to 6.7%. Ferrer said Tuesday the positivity rate is likely to increase in the coming weeks, since many schools — which typically account for a large portion of the weekly COVID tests in the county — are out of session for the summer.

Ferrer said if COVID hospitalization numbers continue rising at the pace from the past two weeks, the county would move into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "high" virus activity category by late June. If the county remains in the "high" category for two straight weeks, the county will re-impose a universal indoor mask-wearing mandate, she said.

But Ferrer said there's no reason people should wait to start wearing masks again.

"I do want to encourage everybody to use your masks now," Ferrer said. "... We don't have to wait until things get much worse."

Masks are still mandatory in high-risk settings such as healthcare facilities, aboard transit vehicles and in transit centers and airports, in correctional facilities and at long-term care facilities.

The county is currently in the CDC's "medium" level of COVID activity. It will move into the "high" category if its average daily rate of new COVID-related hospital admissions rises above 10 per 100,000 residents, or if the percentage of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients tops 10%.

The figures have both been slowly rising over the past several weeks, with the rate of new admissions reaching 7.2 per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday, up from 6.4 last Thursday. The portion of hospital beds in the county occupied by virus patients was 3.3% as of Tuesday, up from 3.1% on Thursday.