‘Tragic fact’: L.A. County coronavirus surge will continue into January, officials say

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With health officials not seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases and Los Angeles County hospital staff working in extreme conditions, experts said Thursday the current surge will continue into the new year.

“The tragic fact is hundreds more people will die every week from COVID-19. These trends, unfortunately, will continue into January. And if we do nothing, definitely beyond,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said during a media briefing.

“Unfortunately, the urgency has never been greater to protect those we love, and all those essential workers who are caring for our loved ones.”

On Thursday, the county reported an additional 15,129 coronavirus cases and 290 deaths, bringing the totals to 770,602 cases and 10,345 fatalities.

Additionally, there are 7,546 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Positive patients make up 75% of ICU beds at county public hospitals, Dr. Christina Ghaly, L.A. County’s director of health services, said.

“We are fearful, frankly, of what is to come in 2021,” she noted.

Ferrer again urged residents to stay home for New Year’s Eve and avoid gatherings, adding that it takes only one “slip” to expose loved ones and continue the rapid spread of coronavirus.

“All it took was one gathering, one brief get together and many in a family soon tested positive for COVID-19, and grandma’s in the hospital and grandma’s friend is also sick,” Ferrer said. “This virus is strong, and it’s fast and quickly spreads to others, and the circles of exposure grow larger and larger.”

She asked those traveling outside of the region to quarantine for 10 days and even called for local businesses to take extra steps to ensure public safety.

These include requiring workers who have traveled to quarantine, doubling down on protection protocols and asking workers to work remotely whenever possible.

‘We’re in the midst of a disaster’

The pandemic is wreaking havoc on L.A. County’s emergency system and hospitals, something Cathy Chidester, the region’s EMS agency director, described as a “hidden disaster.”

“It is heart-wrenching what is happening within our hospitals,” she said. “There is no doubt … we’re in the midst of a disaster.”

She described a litany of challenges for hospital staff: Hospitals are running low on oxygen and tanks, staff are having issues discharging and transferring patients, patients are being cared for in dwindling ambulances rather than inside buildings because there’s no room, or patients having to wait up to eight hours to receive proper care.

Chidester said EMS officials are working on solutions with help from the state.

“These are not normal times. So we need to continue to look for ways that we can assist these hospitals to take care of acutely ill patients and patients that no longer need to be there, or that do not have an acute medical need,” she said.

Despite the dire circumstances, Ferrer spoke of a brighter 2021, and wished residents a safe and peaceful new year.

“I know that 2020 has been an extremely difficult year. And we’ve all done our best to manage to a terrible crisis. And we know it’s been challenging,” she said. “The future will be brighter, and we’ll help each other recover until there is hope.”

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