By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Los Angeles County reported 255 new cases of COVID- 19 and nine additional deaths Saturday while continuing to track the proliferation of coronavirus variants.

Saturday’s figures brought the county’s totals to 1,247,361 cases and 24,439 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

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According to state figures, there were 219 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Saturday, the same as Friday. There were 38 COVID patients in intensive care, down from 43 the previous day.

Of particular interest to health officials is the Delta variant, formerly known as Indian variant. That and related Kappa variants are involved in massive outbreaks in India, in the recent surge of cases in the U.K., and in ongoing outbreaks elsewhere worldwide. It appears the Delta variant is highly transmissible, and more contagious even than other highly contagious COVID variants.

Between late April and early June, 64 cases of Delta-variant COVID infections were identified among residents of L.A. County, with most of them identified in the last few weeks, the health department said. Much of the transmission of this variant appears to be occurring within households.

“The science and the data are clear, vaccines are the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “This is such good news; after 16 months of enormous upheaval and loss in our county, we can now share a genuine sense of hope. I want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as you are able; vaccinations remain widely available throughout L.A. County.”

Although most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in the state, county health officials urged residents to continue exercising care as they mark Juneteenth and Father’s Day this weekend, particularly if they plan to interact with populations vulnerable to infection.

“If you’re celebrating the holidays with someone elderly or with underlying health conditions, and they haven’t been vaccinated, I encourage you to celebrate safely outdoors with masks and distancing or virtually,” Ferrer said. “While cases and other metrics remain low, COVID-19 transmission and severe health outcomes continue among unvaccinated people.”

Health officials urged people who are not vaccinated to consider “a higher level of protection,” such as double-masking or wearing a higher-grade N95-type respirator if they plan to interact with other unvaccinated people, particularly indoors.

Of the nearly 4.4 million people in the county who were fully vaccinated as of June 17, only 1,696 have tested positive for COVID — a rate of 0.04%. Only 139 of those “breakthrough” cases had to be hospitalized, a rate of 0.003% of the vaccinated population, and 19 have died, equating to a rate of 0.0004%.

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In hopes of encouraging more people to get vaccinated, the county continues to offer incentives. Through Thursday, people who get vaccinated at sites run by Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles or St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a chance to win tickets to see Pepe Aguilar in concert in November, or a VIP package for 20 people at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The contest is open to anyone who comes in for a first dose, or who comes for a second-dose appointment and brings along another person who needs a first dose.

Six Flags, meanwhile, is offering 50,000 free admission tickets to Six Flags theme parks in California. The tickets are available from select vaccination providers across the state. A full list is available at Covid19.ca.gov/Vax-For-The-Win.

The state on July 1 will hold another vaccine-incentive drawing, giving away six California vacation packages, including trips to Anaheim, San Diego, Los Angeles, Rancho Mirage and San Francisco.

Ferrer again noted Thursday that young Black and Latino residents in Los Angeles County continue to lag behind the rest of the population in COVID- 19 vaccination rates.

She also said the county is seeing a slow but steady rise in the local number of COVID cases involving the so-called “Delta” variant of the virus. The variant is blamed for rampant infections ravaging India and some other areas worldwide.

“We’re especially concerned about this variant because it appears to be highly transmissible, and by that we mean it’s more contagious, even than other highly contagious COVID variants,” Ferrer said.

“It’s also thought that this variant may cause more severe infections than other COVID variants. And while fully vaccinated people appear to be very well protected from infections with Delta variants, people with only one vaccine are not well protected at all.”

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)