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Los Angeles County surpassed 15,000 COVID-19 deaths Saturday, and more than a third of those have come after Christmas amid a rapidly escalating surge in infections.

With each fall and winter holiday, health officials have braced for spikes in the numbers, and so far, their fears have come to fruition.

Since Dec. 30, the number of coronavirus fatalities has grown by more than 5,000 in L.A. County. That means the death toll increased by 50% in about three and a half weeks.

“Many people continue to spread this virus and, tragically, now more than 15,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a press release.

The county confirmed another 269 COVID-19 deaths Saturday, bringing the total to 15,162.

On a positive note, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has dropped to 6,881 on Saturday, which marked the first time fewer than 7,000 people were hospitalized for the virus in the county since Dec. 29, according to the Department of Public Health. 

Among those currently hospitalized, 24% of the patients were in intensive care units, the department said. 

But while the number of hospitalizations is down, health care workers and ICUs remain overwhelmed.

The Southern California region continues to have 0% available ICU beds and remains under the regional stay-at-home order, according to the California Department of Public Health.

L.A. County also reported 10,537 new cases Saturday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 1,064,887 since the pandemic began.

But there’s a glimmer of hope. The health department said Friday that key COVID-19 indicators are “trending in the right direction,” with the coronavirus test positivity rate and the average number of new cases dropping.

During a Friday press briefing, Ferrer said “careful actions many have been taking this month are making a difference,” though added that the road ahead remains a difficult one as the death rate remains elevated. 

“While we are seeing some positive data in daily new cases and hospitalizations, we are far from out of the woods,” Ferrer said. “It is critically important we slow COVID-19 spread to decompress the strain on our healthcare system and save lives.”