The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals continued an unnerving climb Monday as the virus’ Omicron variant continued to fuel rising infection numbers in the Southland and beyond.

According to state figures, there were 966 COVID-positive patients in L.A. hospitals as of Monday, up sharply from 904 on Sunday. Two-hundred of those patients were being treated in intensive care, up from 188 a day earlier.

The hospital number has been on a steady climb over the past several weeks, far surpassing the roughly 550 patients reported in late November. The rise has shadowed a dramatic increase in daily COVID case numbers, which surpassed 11,000 on Saturday.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned last week that if infections continue such a dramatic rise, the daily case number could top 20,000 by the new year, its highest level of the pandemic. She also said data show that unvaccinated people are 21 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.

Los Angeles County reported 8,891 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths on Sunday, with the numbers likely artificially low due to standard reporting delays from the weekend. The county has logged 1,616,033 cases of COVID-19 and 27,546 fatalities associated with the virus since the pandemic began.

Officials have said about 90% of the deaths occurred in people who had underlying health conditions. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

Fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose to 10.8% as of Sunday, more than triple the county’s rate from a week ago, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Ferrer said last week the county is not immediately considering a return to lockdown or other severe restrictions on public activity, but it will depend on the actions residents take to slow spread of the virus.

“I’ve always been transparent and honest that with a variant such as Omicron and potentially other variants that could happen in the future, every single option has to be on the table,” she said. “Every single tool we have has to be available for us to protect people’s lives and livelihood and … avoid overwhelming the hospital system.

“… I think if we can all do this, all of us, every single person, commit to celebrating with as much safety as possible, which may mean you’re changing up some of your plans, we’re going to be OK,” she said.

Ferrer has credited COVID vaccines for preventing infected people from becoming seriously ill and creating a burden on health care workers similar to last winter’s surge, which saw thousands of COVID patients in county hospitals. But deaths and hospitalizations are considered trailing indicators, so those numbers could still be in for a substantial spike in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the health department said Friday that it was expanding access to free COVID testing amid greater demand around the holidays.

“Demand for COVID-19 testing is steadily increasing as county residents rush to get tested before gathering with loved ones and as a direct result of LA County’s surge in new cases,” officials said.

Effective Friday, the changes include:

— Extended hours of operation at sites across Los Angeles County;

— Additional week and weekend dates;

— Additional mobile testing units in hard-hit areas;

— Re-launch of Holiday Home Test Collection Program with new guidelines to reach more people and make it easier to get tested. The link is at covid19.lacounty.gov/hometest.

Any county resident who is symptomatic or believes they were exposed to COVID-19 can order a home testing kit, which require swab collection to be mailed back for PCR test result.

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