The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County surged well above the 2,000 mark Tuesday amid a surge in infections that has seen daily case numbers skyrocket over the past two weeks.
According to state figures, there were 2,240 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, a jump from 1,994 on Monday. Of those patients, 303 were being treated in intensive care, an increase from 278 a day earlier.
The hospitalization number is the highest it has been since last February in the midst of another winter COVID surge. Due to rising patient numbers, the county Department of Public Health on Monday urged residents to avoid visiting hospital emergency rooms unless they urgently need emergency care.
“Residents should not be visiting the emergency department solely to get a COVID test or for minor complaints that could be resolved through their primary care physician,” according to the county.
Health officials have noted throughout the pandemic that many of the COVID-positive patients at hospitals were admitted for reasons other than the virus, and only learned they were infected when they were tested upon arrival. Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, told the Los Angeles Times that about two-thirds of the COVID-positive patients at the four county-operated hospitals were admitted for something other than COVID.
The rising patient numbers, however, have led to concerns about the stability of the hospital system, with authorities saying staffing issues will limit hospitals’ ability to rapidly expand patient capacity they way they did last winter, when COVID-positive patient numbers topped 8,000.
The county Department of Public Health reported Monday that the number of pediatric COVID patients in hospitals — while still relatively small — increased by nearly 190% from Dec. 4-25, with children under 4 seeing the biggest pediatric increase.
Although current figures were not immediately available, county officials told City News Service last week that on Dec. 2, there were eight pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID in the county, but that number jumped to 21 on Dec. 23.
“As students return to the classroom, we all need to follow the public health safety measures in place to ensure our schools can open safely after the winter break,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Monday. “Because higher community transmission creates additional challenges at our schools, everyone needs to do their part to slow the spread of the virus.
“Most importantly, given that vaccinations and boosters provide the most protection against COVID-19, reducing transmission and disruptions in learning at schools, families need to act urgently to get their school-aged children vaccinated,” she said.
The county issued revised guidelines late last week for schools, requiring teachers and staff to wear upgraded surgical-grade masks, while also requiring mask-wearing outdoors for students when physical distancing isn’t possible. Dozens of school districts resumed in-person classes Monday, while the Los Angeles Unified School District will return next week.
The LAUSD is requiring all students and staff to be tested before in-person classes resume Jan. 11.
The county indicated it will be helping to distribute at-home test kits to students being made available by the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom previously said 6 million at-home kits would be distributed to every student in the state, but delivery of those kits has been slower than originally planned, with some districts still not receiving any of them.
With the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 fueling spread of the virus, the county’s case numbers have been skyrocketing over the past week. The county reported nearly 45,000 new cases over the weekend, following a daily record high of 27,091 new infections on Friday.
On Monday — when case and fatality numbers are traditionally low due to reporting delays from the weekend — the county announced eight more COVID-related deaths and 16,269 new cases.
The numbers increased the county’s COVID death toll to 24,647, and the cumulative pandemic case number to 1,757,522.
The rolling seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 22.5% as of Monday. That rate was below 1% in November.
Health officials continued to urge residents to curtail higher-risk activities, including indoor activities where individuals are unmasked for long periods of time, as well as crowded outdoor events.
“The days ahead will be extraordinarily challenging for all us as we face extraordinarily high case numbers reflecting widespread transmission of the virus. In order to make sure that people are able to work and attend school, we all need to act responsibly,” Ferrer said late last week.
She also noted that overall, COVID death rates have remained relatively flat in the county, despite the dramatic surge in infections, but she said that could change.
“Deaths fortunately remain low and they haven’t changed, but this is because we’re only about a week out from when our hospitalizations started rising,” she said.
Officials have said about 90% of the COVID deaths during the pandemic occurred in people who had underlying health conditions. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.