L.A. County in ‘uncharted territory’ as COVID-19 cases explode to single-day record with more than 13,000

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Los Angeles County broke the record for COVID-19 cases reported in a single day once again on Friday with 13,815 new infections, the latest sign that the current surge of cases is not slowing down any time soon.

The total number of cases reported in the county has now surpassed the 500,000-mark, hitting 501,635 infections on Friday.

Less than two weeks into December, the county has already recorded more coronavirus cases than in any other month.

The surge in cases is causing hospitals to become full and some intensive care units to reach capacity. As of Friday, there were 3,624 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the county — 23% of those patients are in intensive care units and 15% are on ventilators, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during Friday’s media briefing

“This is alarming to all of us, given there are only around 2,100 ICU adult beds across all of our county hospitals,” she noted, “and many of those beds are essential for all of the patients that need care for other illnesses.”

The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in L.A. County has doubled since Thanksgiving and quadrupled in the last month, when there were 942 coronavirus-infected patients in area hospitals.

“We’re in uncharted territory at this point,” Ferrer said. “We’re seeing daily numbers of cases and hospitalizations that we’ve not experienced and, frankly, did not anticipate. Our intensive care unit bed capacity continues to drop. We’re on a very dangerous track.”

The county also reported 50 additional coronavirus-related fatalities, bringing the county’s total number of deaths to 8,199.

So far this month, the county has seen an average of 49 people die per day from COVID-19, beating July’s daily death of 42 fatalities per day. So unless L.A. County’s average daily deaths begins to drop, December is on track to become the county’s deadliest month of the pandemic. 

To illustrate the magnitude of the current surge, Ferrer said the number of average daily deaths a month ago was 18. Two weeks ago, it was 30, and this week, it was 51.

Health officials predict the county could see an average of 80 deaths per day in two weeks’ time. They fear the situation will only get worse as more people who may have been infected during the Thanksgiving holiday become sick. 

“These numbers are overwhelming,” Ferrer said, “and the grief our community continues to experience can’t be comprehended.”

There is still hope that a new stay-at-home order will eventually make a difference, but that will take weeks before any difference is seen. The order, which was triggered because intensive care bed capacity throughout Southern California fell below 15%, will remain in place through at least Dec. 27.

As of Friday, Southern California’s intensive care bed capacity was at 6.2%.

At this point, Ferrer said, “it’s not a question of if we’ll see a large increase of hospitalizations and deaths,” but a question of how worse the numbers will get.

With the current average of 10,200 new cases per day, she said, L.A. County can expect to see 7,326 hospitalizations per day in two weeks. And given the current data, about 1,685 of those patients could be expected to need treatment in intensive care units.

“We cannot undo what’s already been done, and collectively, we’re going to all pay a very high price for the actions we were taking in the past,” she said.

The unfortunate reality, she said, is that “what we’re seeing today is not the worst that we’re going to experience.”

Ferrer said the current surge likely stems from gatherings over Thanksgiving. But even before that long weekend, L.A. County was already seeing spikes in coronavirus transmission.

“I think the issue right now is this is what we would call the Thanksgiving surge … now we have a surge on top of a surge,” she said. “And it’s really hard for us to calculate exactly what we’re going to see over the next week or two.”

Going forward, she said, all residents must take steps to protect themselves from infection — including staying home as much as possible and avoiding mixing with those they do not live with.

“Make the choice today and every day throughout December that you’re going to protect yourself, you’re going to protect your friends and loved ones and you’re going to protect the friends and loved ones of other people,” Ferrer said.

She said it’s too early to consider additional restrictions on businesses and activities on top of what’s already in place countywide. 

“For now, the plea is really: Let’s stop the surge by making sure we’re doing everything we know we can do,” which is to stay at home as much as possible, the health director said.

If, in a few weeks, it appears the current orders are not having their intended effect, Ferrer said tighter restrictions could come.

“We may need to look with the state at other possible options for us,” she said before urging residents to comply with the current rules.

So the focus at this point is urging people to follow the rules that are already in place.

“I think what we have right now would work if we had almost everybody doing it. I think it will slow the surge,” she said. “We just need everyone to start doing what they need to be doing.”

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