COVID-19 deaths in Los Angeles County topped 200 again Thursday as the virus continued its fatal spread, and state officials announced plans to set up temporary morgue space at the county coroner’s office to help store bodies.

The county Department of Public Health announced another 218 deaths, the third consecutive day the number has topped 200. The new fatalities lifted the countywide death toll to 11,545.

The rising number of deaths has led to issues at some hospitals, which were running out of space to store bodies, particularly with overrun funeral homes unable to accept them. A California National Guard team was previously dispatched to the county coroner’s office to assist with the management of the increasing deaths.

In a statement Thursday, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said a temporary morgue will be erected in the parking lot adjacent to the county coroner’s building. The facility will include at least five 53-foot trailers supplied by the state, and five more supplied by the county, along with an unknown number of “ground refrigerated storage containers.”

“It is important to know that there is a plan, it is under way, and it is active today,” OES Director Mark Ghilarducci said. “We will continue to work at that with each of our 58 counties to ensure that all of these folks are taken care of in the most respectful manner.”

The county on Thursday also announced another 19,719 COVID-19 cases, pushing the countywide total since the pandemic began to 871,404.

The rate of people testing positive for the virus throughout the pandemic stood at 17%, but the current daily rate again exceeded that, at 20.4%.

According to the state, there were 8,074 people hospitalized in the county with COVID-19, a slight dip from Wednesday, with 1,635 in intensive care. County Department of Health Services statistics showed a total of 552 beds available in the county’s 70 “911-receiving” hospitals, including just 34 adult ICU beds.

The county’s 70 “911-receiving” hospitals with emergency rooms have a total licensed capacity of about 2,500 ICU beds, although in recent weeks they have implemented surge plans and staffed a daily average of about 3,000 ICU beds.

Given the rising case and hospitalization numbers — which health officials have warned will worsen thanks to Christmas and New Year’s gatherings — the Department of Public Health issued another warning Thursday for businesses to ensure they are fully complying with infection-control measures.

“Everyone in L.A. County, businesses and residents, needs to follow the rules if there is any chance we can get out of this surge by the end of the month,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Every day we report a large number of people newly infected with COVID-19, it is like a reset on the clock for when we can get back to our recovery journey. I implore everyone to stay home as much as possible.

“Shopping for anything except food and medicine and mingling with others are activities we all need to stop doing for the next few weeks as it increases risk. There are just too many people spreading the virus, too many people sick and hospitalized and each person that dies is one too many.”

County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Wednesday hospitals continue to be slammed with COVID patients.

“The number of new patients with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization each day in Los Angeles County has increased markedly in the past few weeks, but it’s now appearing to level off somewhat,” she said. “This likely reflects relatively less transmission in a period after Thanksgiving and the first couple of weeks of December.”

But she warned that leveling off is not a cause for celebration, noting that hospitals will soon begin seeing an anticipated swell of patients caused by gatherings over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“If that transmission did increase over Christmas and New Year’s, we’ll start to see those hospitalizations and case counts rise, and that (transmission rate) is really actually much higher. And that flattening of the number of the new hospitalizations really should not be interpreted … that transmission and spread is stopping.”

The California Department of Public Health issued a new public health order Tuesday that requires some non-essential and non-life-threatening surgeries to be delayed in counties that have an ICU capacity of 10% or less and that are located in a region with an overall adjusted 0% capacity. That includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Imperial and San Bernardino counties.

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