COVID-19 hospitalizations in L.A. County reach another troubling peak

Local news

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County reached a troubling new peak Wednesday after hospitalization and death rates rose sharply through the month of November.

The county has faced a surging number of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, but the number of people hospitalized had not seen the same steep increase until the past two weeks. A total of 2,439 people were hospitalized for the virus Wednesday, more than on any other day during the pandemic. That also marks more than 100 additional patients reported in just the last day.

The second-highest number of daily hospitalizations was reported Tuesday: 2,316.

Across the U.S., an unprecedented number of people are being hospitalized for the virus. The New York Times reported Wednesday that 100,226 hospitalizations were recorded nationwide — the most the country has ever seen on a single day and the first time that figure has surpassed 100,000.

Since L.A.’s daily hospitalizations previously peaked at 2,232 in July, those numbers had somewhat leveled off in the last two months. The average number of hospitalizations recorded daily fell below 1,000 in early September and remained below that level through the end of October.

But hospitalizations inched up as the case rate rose following Halloween. By mid-November, they were reaching levels not seen since summer.

Likewise, the death rate declined in late August and remained relatively steady through October before increasing beginning around Nov. 10. Now, L.A. County is once again recording dozens of deaths daily after managing to get those rates down earlier in the fall.

In recent months, the death rate had not climbed at the same pace as the infection rate, something health officials attributed to advances in medicines and treatments helping more patients survive.

On Wednesday, the Department of Public Health confirmed another 40 deaths related to the virus. Since the start of the pandemic, 7,740 people in L.A. County have died from COVID-19, and more than 408,000 cases have been recorded.

“We’re seeing terrifying increases in numbers in L.A. County that can only be turned around if everyone — businesses and individuals — carefully use the tools we have to slow the spread,” county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday.

Within about a month, the number of hospitalizations recorded daily has more than doubled.

Between Nov. 13 and 26, the average number of daily hospitalizations increased by 93% — rising from 974 hospitalizations to 1,884 during that time. Since then, less than a week later, more than 500 additional patients have been hospitalized.

U.S. hospitals hit with overwhelming surges in cases are grappling with finding enough staff, equipment and space to treat patients. In L.A. County, officials have said hospitals currently have enough capacity, but that could change if hospitalization rates continue to rise sharply.

Ferrer said Wednesday she may consider a stricter stay-at-home order, given the risk of private gatherings and celebrations during the holiday season spreading the virus.

The steep rise in coronavirus cases has led the county to shut down all dining at restaurants — including the outdoor dining otherwise permitted by state-issued restrictions. That happened even before the record hospitalizations reported Tuesday and Wednesday.

But critics say the county dining ban goes too far.

Several restaurateurs have come forward saying they’re losing their businesses. Some elected officials, including county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, have questioned why restaurants are having to close down when there’s not necessarily evidence proving they are driving the surge.

Some critics have pointed to private gatherings like house parties as the source of growing cases, saying it’s unfair restaurants and other businesses have to pay the price. Still, local health officials have countered that shutting down restaurant dining is a way to regulate an activity that’s inherently prone to spreading the virus — particularly since patrons don’t wear masks.

On Wednesday, a judge declined to strike down the county’s dining ban but asked for local officials to offer evidence showing how the ban will help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The California Restaurant Association has asked health officials for scientific proof to justify the ban.

The court has another hearing set for next week on the ban.

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