For the second time this week, Los Angeles County shattered its record for daily COVID-19 infections, with nearly 13,000 new cases reported, while hospitalizations rose again to another record peak, raising fears of a “catastrophic” situation for the county’s health-care system.
The county Department of Public Health reported 12,819 new coronavirus cases Thursday, easily topping the record of 10,528 set on Sunday. The number of people hospitalized increased to 3,433, a jump of 300 patients in the past two days.
“Like a speeding car approaching a cliff, if we do not rapidly change course, we are in jeopardy of catastrophic consequences, with our hospitals overwhelmed and severely ill patients not being able to get the care they need,” the county’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Paul Simon, said. “… If we do not take every precaution right now, more people will become very seriously ill, more people will suffer and more people will tragically pass away.”
The county death toll has also started a sharp upward turn — something health officials have said was inevitable given the startling surge in cases over the past month. Another 74 deaths were reported by the county on Thursday, although two of those fatalities were actually announced Wednesday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. Long Beach added two more fatalities Thursday.
The new deaths lifted the county’s death toll since the start of the pandemic to 8,151.
The new cases reported by the county, along with 480 announced by Long Beach and 122 added by Pasadena, increased the cumulative countywide total to 488,519.
Of the COVID patients who are hospitalized, 23% are in intensive-care units, contributing to a surge that has led the 11-county Southern California region into a state-mandated stay-at-home order that will be in place until at least Dec. 28.
The stay-at-home order took effect Sunday night, when the region’s ICU capacity fell below 15%. Since then, the situation has worsened, with the region’s ICU capacity estimated at just 7.7% as of Thursday.
On Wednesday, county health services director Dr. Christina Ghaly said the county is averaging about 500 new COVID-19 admissions per day, and if current trends continue, that number will reach 700 per day as early as next week.
She said current modeling estimates that one in 140 residents who are circulating in public are believed to be infectious. But Simon said Thursday that number may be too high. He said researchers at Keck Medicine of USC have estimated the ratio is one in every 50 residents is currently infected with the virus.
Ghaly said the high rate of admission means looming shortages in available and staffed general hospital beds and ICU beds. Hospitals are likely to be moving into surge plans, which could include delaying all non-essential surgeries and potentially reducing staff-to-patient ratios.
She also noted that on Tuesday, 77% of Los Angeles County hospitals implemented two-hour ambulance diversions due to overcrowded emergency room conditions. On a normal day this time of year, normally only 10% to 15% of hospitals call for such diversions.
Health officials said the massive surge and record-breaking case numbers being currently seen are believed to be the onset of the post-Thanksgiving spike, caused by gatherings of people over the holiday weekend despite warnings against them.
“We are two weeks out from Thanksgiving, and we are witnessing the devastating impact of the actions people took over the holiday,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “If a non-household family member or friend invites you over to spend time together, please kindly decline.
“… We need to get back to what we did in the spring, at the beginning of the pandemic, when few people went out and we took seriously our responsibility to care for each other,” she said. “This will slow the spread, protect those most vulnerable residents and prevent deaths.”
The state’s regional stay-at-home order — which covers Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — bars gatherings of people from different households.
Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities were forced to close:
— indoor recreational facilities;
— hair salons and barbershops;
— personal care services;
— museums, zoos, and aquariums;
— movie theaters;
— bars, breweries and distilleries;
— family entertainment centers;
— cardrooms and satellite wagering;
— limited services;
— live audience sports; and
— amusement parks.
Schools with waivers can remain open, along with “critical infrastructure” and retail stores, which will be limited to 20% of capacity. Restaurants are restricted to takeout and delivery service only. Hotels are allowed to open “for critical infrastructure support only,” while churches would be restricted to outdoor only services. Entertainment production — including professional sports — would be allowed to continue without live audiences.
Some of those restrictions were already in effect in select counties.
The state’s full stay-at-home order can be read at www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Regional-Stay-at-Home-Order-.aspx.
Los Angeles County is expecting to receive nearly 83,000 initial doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week. However, first priority for the vaccine will go to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. It will likely be several months before the vaccine is made available to the general public.