The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals surged past 700 Saturday, amid signs of a winter spike in COVID cases.
There are 707 COVID patients at county hospitals, up from 684 on Friday, according to the latest state figures. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care is 182, up from 165 a day earlier.
The latest figures come as local health officials reported 1,834 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 additional deaths associated with the virus, bringing the county’s cumulative totals to 1,545,583 cases and 27,325 deaths since the pandemic began.
The county’s average daily rate of new infections rose to 13 per 100,000 residents this week, up from 8 per 100,000 residents a week ago, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The seven-day cumulative rate of infections rose to 113 per 100,000, moving the county back into the category of “high” transmission as defined by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The county was previously in the less-severe “substantial” transmission category. That category requires a county to have a cumulative seven-day transmission rate of less than 100 cases per 100,000 residents.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday that the county is seeing increases in COVID infections following the Thanksgiving holiday, potentially marking the beginning of a feared winter surge in cases. She said that on Dec. 1, the county’s seven-day average daily number of new cases topped 1,000 — a 19% increase from the previous week.
But Ferrer acknowledged that with the widespread availability of vaccines and the benefit of more experience preventing and treating infections, the county can be considered “much better off” than it was ahead of last winter’s surge that threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
“I don’t want to downplay the fact that we continue to now be back in what the CDC classifies as the tier of `high’ transmission,” she said. “So we have a lot of community transmission going on. And when you have a lot of community transmission going on and there’s lots and lots of opportunities of people intermingling, you run the risk of these numbers just continuing to grow. And every time they grow and we see more and more cases, we all know it results unfortunately in a higher number of people that will end up in the hospital and tragically pass away.”
The county has also confirmed two more cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, including one that was locally acquired, while health officials again stressed that vaccines appear to be effective in preventing serious illness from the variant.
The two new Omicron cases revealed Friday bring the total number confirmed by the county to six. Long Beach, which has its own health department, has confirmed one case.
One of the new Omicron patients had recently traveled to several countries in Africa. The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, where it is blamed for a rash of infections.
The patient was fully vaccinated, including a booster dose, and developed only mild symptoms. “Multiple” close contacts of the person were identified, but all were vaccinated and all have tested negative, according to the health department.
The second new patient had no recent travel history, so the infection has been deemed a case of local transmission of the variant. The person was also fully vaccinated, but without a booster dose, and also developed only mild symptoms, health officials said. At least one of the person’s close contacts has also tested positive and is in isolation. It was unclear if that close contact also has the Omicron variant.
“We anticipate seeing increased numbers of individuals infected with the Omicron variant as we are beginning to see cases of local transmission among residents that have not traveled,” Ferrer said. “All indications are that among those fully vaccinated, illness severity if infected with Omicron is mild.”
The Omicron variant has been deemed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization and the CDC. However, it remains unclear if the variant is more easily transmitted or can cause more severe illness. The previously identified Delta variant — blamed for the most recent surge in cases nationwide — remains the dominant mutation in circulation, representing more than 99% of all COVID specimens that have undergone genetic testing in the county, Ferrer said this week.
According to the most recent figures, 83% of county residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 75% are fully vaccinated. Of all eligible residents aged 5 and over, 77% have received at least one dose, and 69% are fully vaccinated.
Of the more than 6.15 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 84,931 have tested positive, or about 1.38%. A total of 2,798 vaccinated people have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.046%, and 537 have died, for a rate of 0.009%.