Los Angeles County’s death toll from COVID-19 crossed the grim 9,000 mark Tuesday, while hospitals continued to post record numbers of coronavirus patients days ahead of a Christmas holiday that could further exacerbate the pandemic as residents flout protocols banning gatherings.
The county reported another 88 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, and that number didn’t even include a single-day record of 14 deaths confirmed by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services and one additional fatality announced by Pasadena health officials.
The new fatalities lifted the cumulative countywide death toll to 9,031. County health officials said more than 1,000 people have died from the virus in the past two weeks alone, with the county averaging 73 deaths per day during that time — roughly one fatality every 20 minutes.
County health officials also reported another 12,954 cases of the virus, while Long Beach added 436 and Pasadena reported 84. The cumulative case total since the start of the pandemic stood at 648,062.
The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday officially stood at 5,866, although the state’s virus-tracking website put the number much higher, at 6,155. According to the county Department of Health Services, the county’s 70 hospitals with emergency departments had a total of 768 available beds as of Tuesday, including 71 ICU beds — only 38 of those adult ICU beds.
Public Health officials said of the 5,866 hospital patients being reported by the county on Tuesday, 20% — or about 1,173 people — were in the ICU.
The county has an overall licensed ICU capacity of about 2,500 beds. According to the county DHS, hospitals surged their capacity to operate a daily average of 2,660 ICU beds last week. On average, those beds were occupied by 996 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases on a daily basis, or about 37% of the 2,660 staffed beds. The hospitals last week averaged 55 open and staffed ICU beds on a daily basis.
Those 70 hospitals operated a daily average of about 10,000 non-ICU beds last week, with 36% of them on any given day occupied by confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, and only about 300 beds staffed and available each day.
The surge in cases that has ravaged the county since Thanksgiving has health officials pleading for residents to stay home for Christmas and avoid gatherings with friends and relatives from outside their own household. Authorities say residents’ flouting of that warning at Thanksgiving directly led to the current virus surge, which has seen the average daily number of new cases triple in the last three weeks.
But despite health officials’ pleas over the last month for residents to remain home as much as possible and avoid gatherings, many people continue to ignore the advice.
According to an ongoing weekly USC survey of residents’ actions during the pandemic, 30% of respondents reported visiting a friend, relative or neighbor in the past week, and 30% said they had visitors at their home. Health officials said that translates to 3 million county residents ignoring protocols against gathering with people from other households.
“Our actions have an impact on the health and well-being of many people in our county, and not following the public health rules has deadly consequences,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “The virus has spread across the entire county and everyone, employers and residents, need to be extra vigilant in their precautions to protect themselves and others. This is not the time to crowd at stores, to attend parties and gatherings, or to travel. If every person can find it in themselves to celebrate the meaning of the holidays by protecting each other from the virus, we have a chance to stop the surge.”
Ferrer said Monday the county received 82,873 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine last week, and another 48,750 doses are expected to arrive this week. The county also expects to receive 116,600 doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine this week.
The Pfizer vaccines will continue to be directed to hospitals for continued vaccinations of frontline health care workers. The Moderna vaccine, which does not require the super-cold-storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine, will be directed toward 338 skilled nursing facilities in the county, where an estimated 70,000 residents and staff will receive doses. The Moderna vaccine will also be used for 15,500 paramedics and emergency medical technicians, along with about 300 health care workers who are actually administering the vaccines.
Ferrer said about 23,000 health care workers in the county have already been vaccinated with the initial allotment of Pfizer vaccine from last week. She said about 506,000 frontline health care workers are in line to be vaccinated.
Once those groups have been vaccinated, priority will move to intermediate care and home health care workers, community health workers, public health field staff and workers at primary care, correctional facility and urgent care clinics. Lab technicians, dental workers and pharmacy staff will be up next.
After that, priority will move to people aged 75 and older, along with essential workers, including first responders, teachers, school staff, day care workers, manufacturing workers, correctional staff, postal workers, public transit, food and agriculture workers and grocery store workers.
Next up will be people aged 65 and older, along with people 16 and older who have significant underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness.