Los Angeles County reported more than 43,700 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, setting another daily case record for the second day in a row.
Coronavirus cases soared to the highest level since the start of the pandemic, with the county recording 43,712 new cases and shattering the record of 37,215 cases set just the day before.
The surge in infections is already affecting crucial sectors, with many police officers, firefighters and health care workers either home ill with COVID-19 or quarantining because they were exposed.
Complicating matters is the strain on coronavirus testing sites countywide, with residents queuing in long lines, struggling to find appointments and rushing to pharmacies only to find rapid at-home test kits sold out.
“Many services are strained,” L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.
L.A. County officials said the health system is experiencing “significant” health care workforce shortages because of the high rates of virus transmission in the county.
As of Thursday, skilled nursing facilities and hospitals reported the highest share of cases among staff at health care setting sites, with nursing staff accounting for 27% of new infections.
Over one-third of all health care workers have reported being exposed to a known case at their facility.
“Keeping healthcare workers safe is critical to maintaining functionality across our healthcare facilities when surges lead to staffing shortages and rising rates of hospitalizations,” Ferrer said in a Friday statement.
As hospitals deal with the staffing shortages, officials asked residents not go to emergency rooms unless they need care for a serious medical concerns.
There were 2,902 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the county on Friday. Seven days ago, that number was 1,365. The Friday before that, it was 801.
Officials said that although hospitalization numbers have been rising rapidly, many of the COVID-19-positive patients were in hospitals seeking care for non-COVID-19 health issues before testing positive.
“More than half of COVID-positive hospitalized patients are in the hospital for non-COVID related illness,” the health department said in a news release.
In early November, about 75% of hospitalized patients who were positive for the virus were hospitalized because of COVID-19. But that percentage is now down to 45%.
“While COVID-positive patients do represent a substantial strain on the healthcare system regardless of the reason for their hospital admission, there are likely to be less COVID positive patients requiring ICU care and ventilators than last winter,” officials said.
It’s not just hospitals struggling with staffing issues because of the surge.
As of Wednesday, 505 L.A. Police Department officers and 299 L.A. Fire Department employees were at home because of COVID-19, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti.
At LAFD, response times have been slightly longer because of the staffing issues, according to Chief Ralph Terrazas said.
“When you call for help from the LAFD, we will respond,” Terrazas said. “However, our response times have been impacted by our lack of staffing due to COVID.”
L.A. County’s health director urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted.
“Vaccinated individuals are between ten and thirty times less likely to need hospital care than those unvaccinated,” Ferrer said.