Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed the highest number of new COVID-19 deaths, cases and hospitalizations ever reported throughout the pandemic.
Public Health confirmed 138 new deaths and 22,422 new cases of COVID-19. The number of new cases reported are, in part, due to a backlog of over 7,000 test results received from one large lab.
Before providing an update during a press conference Wednesday, Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said, “I wanna acknowledge that we’re experiencing an explosive and very deadly surge. And there’s urgency in our request that everyone do all that’s in their power to slow transmission and prevent additional suffering.”
During the last week of November, the county experienced an average of about 5,900 new cases a day. That number is now nearly four times that.
Since Nov. 9, average daily deaths have increased nearly 600%, from 12 average deaths per day to more than 70 this week.
“We’re experiencing an explosive and very deadly surge,” Ferrer said. “These are extraordinary, extraordinary numbers and they represent transmission that continues to be out of control.”
There are 4,656 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized and 21% of these people are in the ICU.
“Hospital capacity is decreasing to alarming levels and our healthcare worker are pushed to the limits,” Ferrer warned. Southern California’s ICU capacity is currently 0.5% and in L.A. County only 68 adult ICU beds remained, according to data from L.A. County Health Services.
One in 80 people in the county is currently has the virus, officials said. According to Ferrer, “Every hour, on average, two of our neighbors, family members and friends are dying from COVID-19.”
While not at the levels seen early on in the pandemic, L.A. County is experiencing increases in deaths from COVID-19 among residents at skilled nursing facilities. During the week of Nov. 15, 30 residents died, that number increased to 49 during the week of Dec. 5. For comparison in early May, weekly deaths for residents of skilled nursing facilities reached a high of 191.
As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, the gaps between race and ethnicity groups continue to widen, particularly for Latino/Latinx residents compared to other groups, though all groups are experiencing increases. Latino/Latinx residents are now seeing a seven-day cumulative rate of nearly 650 new cases per 100,000 people. This is more than two times that of African American/Black residents, the group with the second highest case rate of about 270 new cases per 100,000 people, and almost three times the rate experienced by white residents (250 new cases per 100,000 people) and Asian residents (172 new cases per 100,000 people).
Latino/Latinx, African American/Black, and Asian residents are also experiencing an alarming increase in deaths. The death rate among Latino/Latinx residents has increased from 1.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 4.5 deaths per 100,000 people. The death rate for African American/Black residents has increased from less than one death per 100,000 people to three deaths per 100,000 people. The death rate among Asian residents increased from 0.5 deaths per 100,000 people to three deaths per 100,000 people.
County officials continue to see a high mortality rate among people living in areas with the highest levels of poverty, with four times the death rate compared to people living in the lowest levels of poverty.
Initial allocations of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Los Angeles County. As of Wednesday, all nine designated sites received their allotment of the almost 83,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Each of these nine prepositioned sites worked with Public Health and EMS to arrange for the redistribution of vaccines so that every acute care hospital across Los Angeles County that treats COVID-19 patients receive a pro-rata share of this initial allocation. Acute care hospitals are beginning the process of administering the vaccinations to their staff at highest risk of exposure. The first round of COVID-19 vaccines in L.A. County are going to frontline healthcare workers.
Health and Human Services Director Christina Ghaly said that while the vaccine the vaccine is a “ray of hope” there are not enough doses “in a short enough timeframe to make a difference among the general infection rate in the regular population.”
She also warned about the effect of the current surge on hospitals.
“Hospitals are under siege and our model shows no end in sight” she said. “At this point, all our hospital systems can do is brace for the days and weeks to come.”
And expanding ICU capacity is not a solution, she said. “There is simply a limit to the number of people who can safely receive intensive care services in our hospitals at any one time, even after everything has been done to expand the capacity and expand the ICUs.”
Public Health is hosting a town hall for residents to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, how it was developed, where it will be distributed in communities, and when it will be made available to the general public. The town hall will be Thursday from 6–7:30 p.m. and will be streamed live on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube @lapublichealth. For more information and to submit a question, visit: tinyurl.com/askcovidtownhall.
“The most important way we get through these hard times is for everyone to stay home as much as possible and only go out for work, exercise or for essential services,” Ferrer implored. “Please cancel holiday plans that involve travel or gathering with friends and family that are not part of your household. Unless we remain more diligent through the holidays — and beyond — we will not be able to stop the surge and provide essential relief to our hospitals and healthcare workers.”