LOS ANGELES – The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County continued trending slowly downward Monday, while the county announced key progress in its vaccination program.
According to the county Department of Public Health, nearly 99% of the skilled nursing facilities in the county have administered first doses of the vaccine to residents and staff. The five remaining nursing homes will be administering shots this week.
Completing those vaccinations will be a key step in advancing the program to more residents. The county reported 88 more COVID-19 deaths and 9,927 new infections Monday, noting that the figures could be artificially low due to lags in reporting from the weekend and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The new deaths, along with one reported by health officials in Pasadena, lifted the county’s overall death toll to 13,937. Los Angeles County’s new cases, along with 107 confirmed by Pasadena, raised the cumulative number of cases confirmed in the county since the pandemic began to 1,024,297. View the latest detailed report by city and demographics here.
According to the state, there were 7,322 people hospitalized due to COVID as of Monday, continuing a downward trend from the past week. Hospitalizations peaked at more than 8,000 in early January, putting pressure on hospitals across the county, forcing ambulances to wait hours to offload patients and prompting medical centers to care for patients in gift shops and cafeterias.
But while the population of hospitalized COVID patients has been trending downward, intensive-care units remain packed with virus victims. According to the state, there were 1,728 COVID patients in ICUs in the county, which has about 2,500 licensed ICU beds. Health officials have said in recent weeks that about two-thirds of ICU patients in the county are being treated for COVID, leaving little room for people in need of ICU care for other reasons.
Authorities have warned that while new hospital admissions had appeared to level off, the numbers could again shoot upward as people who were infected over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays begin developing symptoms and requiring medical care.
Exacerbating the problem is the recently discovered COVID-19 variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom but is now spreading in domestically. The variant does not make people sicker, but it is far more easily transmitted from person to person, meaning the county’s already high transmission rate could jump even higher. With at least 10% of COVID patients requiring hospitalization, higher case numbers will translate into higher hospitalization numbers, and ultimately, more deaths.
The UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first detected in California in San Diego County, but Los Angeles County health officials on Saturday confirmed the first case locally. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer had been warning for the past two weeks that the variant was likely already in the county, but simply hadn’t been detected in the time-consuming testing process needed to find it. The Los Angeles County case was confirmed in a male traveler who is now in isolation in Oregon.
Increasing fatalities due to the virus prompted a grim move on Sunday by air-quality regulators, who lifted the cap on the number of bodies local crematories could cremate. Crematoriums normally operate under a limit designed to reduce the impact of the cremations on air quality.
Los Angeles County crossed the 1 million mark in cumulative cases during the pandemic over the weekend. Although that milestone represents about one-tenth of the county’s overall population, modeling released last week estimated that as many as one-third of residents have actually been infected at some point, with many of them never knowing it but still capable of spreading the virus to others.
Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health, said that as of Thursday, the county had administered more than 279,000 total doses of vaccine to health care workers and staff and residents of skilled nursing and long-term care facilities. He said the county has administered 44% of the vaccines it has received for use as first doses in the two-dose regimen, along with 30% of those earmarked for use as second doses.
“The remaining doses have either been distributed to our partner vaccination providers or have been allocated for use over the next several weeks,” Simon said.