With COVID-19 infections still surging, Los Angeles County’s cumulative number of cases throughout the pandemic surpassed the 2 million mark Monday, with 43,582 new cases confirmed.
Those new cases lifted the county’s cumulative case total to 2,010,964 since the pandemic began. Another 13 deaths were also confirmed, giving the county an overall death toll of 27,798.
Health officials have said previously that about 90% of people who died from COVID-19 had underlying health conditions. Of the 13 deaths reported Monday, nine had underlying conditions, according to the county Department of Public Health. The number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals also continued an unnerving rise, reaching 3,472, according to state figures. That was up from 3,364 on Sunday. The number of hospitalized patients being treated in intensive care was 482 as of Monday, up from 435 a day earlier.
The number of hospitalized COVID-positive patients has not been this high since February of last year, during a severe winter surge that at one point pushed the patient number above 8,000.
“With surging transmission and rapidly rising cases and hospitalizations, our already understaffed health care providers are under enormous strain as they try to care for so many COVID infected people, including those with mild illness who are looking for help and support, with the unintended consequence of compromising response capacity across the entire system,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Because high community transmission has the inevitable impact of increasing demand for health care services, the best way to protect health care personnel and our capacity to care for both those with COVID and non-COVID illness, is to double-down on reducing transmission.”
The county Department of Public Health noted, however, that a majority of COVID hospitalizations are occurring among people who were originally admitted for another reason, and only realized they had the virus when they were tested upon admission. For the week ending Dec. 26, 55% of COVID-positive hospital patients had been admitted for a different reason — indicating that while they were infected with COVID, they were not experiencing severe virus symptoms.
County health officials stressed, however, that unvaccinated people remain 21 times more likely to wind up hospitalized with COVID than vaccinated people. The current surge in cases in being driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.
“While it is true that Omicron is much more infectious than previous COVID strains, there are many effective strategies available for reducing transmission risks over the next few weeks,” Ferrer said. “At the top of the list is avoiding hazardous activities where people are unmasked and in close contact with others. Gatherings should also be postponed for a few weeks, especially if there are participants who are not fully vaccinated, and everyone cannot test before getting together. Lastly, upgrading masks to those that provide a better barrier against virus particles is a commonsense step that increases our own protection along with those around us.”
The county’s rolling average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 21.4% as of Monday, up from 20.6% Sunday and 20.9% Saturday. The rate was less than 1% in November.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday unveiled a proposed $2.7 billion COVID- 19 emergency response package as part of his budget proposal, including a $1.4 billion emergency appropriation request to bolster testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers, strengthen the health care system and “battle misinformation.”
On Friday, Newsom announced the activation the California National Guard to help provide additional testing facilities and capacity amid the national surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant. The announcement came as Omicron continues to spread rapidly across the globe, accounting for at least 80% of COVID-19 cases in California.
Surging infection numbers have prompted L.A. County to amend its public health order, requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others. The order will take effect Jan. 17 and requires employers to provide affected workers with “well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks, or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks.”
The revised order also amended the definition of outdoor “mega events,” where masking is required, to 5,000 or more attendees; and the definition of indoor “mega” events to 500 or more people. The numbers align with those in the state’s health order. The county’s order also “recommends” that food and drink be consumed only in designated dining areas.
The upgraded mask requirement for county workplaces mirrors an order released by the county for K-12 schools, requiring teachers and staff to wear higher-grade face coverings. USC announced this week it will require all students and staff to wear higher-grade masks when in-person classes resume.
According to county figures released Thursday, of the more than 6.4 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 199,314 have tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 3.1%, while 3,348 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.05%. A total of 625 fully vaccinated people have died, for a rate of 0.01%.
The testing-positivity rate, however, may be artificially low due to the number of people who use take-home tests and don’t report the results. Overall, 79% of eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 71% are fully vaccinated. Of the county’s overall population of 10.3 million people, 75% have received at least one dose, and 67% are fully vaccinated.