More people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Los Angeles County on Monday than ever before during the months-long pandemic, with more than one-fifth of patients in intensive care units.
In the nation’s most populous county, 6,914 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, health officials announced Monday.
The new high comes a day after at least five hospitals in the county went on “internal-disaster” status, which diverted all emergency medical traffic to other facilities.
From Nov. 9 to Dec. 26, daily hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19 increased by 674%, officials said.
With no beds available, some hospitals are now treating patients in spaces not typically used for patient care such as conference rooms or gift shops, said Health Services Director Christina Ghaly during Monday’s press briefing. Multiple ambulances have also had to park outside hospitals, and patients are having to be treated inside the ambulance, she said.
“Many hospitals have reached a crisis point and are having to make many tough decisions about patient care,” Ghaly said. “Virtually all hospitals in the county are on ambulance diversion every day.
On Sunday, 94% of the county’s hospitals that received 911 calls were unable to take in any patients at some point during the day and had to direct ambulances to other facilities.
“It’s one thing to have a surge when the staff are well, when they’re rested, when the number of patients is steady,” Ghaly said. “It is a very, very different and infinitely more dangerous situation to have hospitals experiencing a surge when the staff are exhausted. They’re stretched thin, and they’re already caring for more patients than they can safely handle.”
Because of staffing shortages, the county hospital system has been unable to bring in more traveling nurses, which is what they would normally do in a situation like this. Instead, the county has deployed a high number of outpatient nurses to work in inpatient units and in emergency departments.
“As a result of this, DHS has temporarily closed several of its outpatient clinic,” Ghaly said. “The vast majority of non-essential surgeries and procedures have been postponed.”
As of Monday morning, there were 617 total hospital beds available countywide, in addition to 54 ICU beds, about half of which are pediatric beds.
“You and your loved ones are not invincible, you can get COVID, you can get in a car accident,” Ghaly said, as she urged people to stay home ahead of New Year’s Eve.
If the surge continues or even worsens, “hospitals across the county may not be able to help you,” Ghaly said. “The most concerning part of what we’re facing is that as bad as it is the worst is almost certainly yet to come.”
Coronavirus cases also continue to rise rapidly in the region.
Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Monday said the county has been “consistently exceeding 13,000 cases a day and some days, we’ve exceeded 15,000 cases.”
L.A. County reported 13,661 new coronavirus infections Monday, bringing the countywide total to 733,325 cases.
“This means that on average, nine to 10 people in LA County test positive for COVID-19 every minute, or 540 to 600 people test positive every hour,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said the rate of community transmission remains extraordinarily high — the county’s positivity rate has now risen to 15%. For context, that rate was 4% on Nov. 1, she said.
“We’re continuing to experience the alarming surge in new cases,” Ferrer said. “From November 1st, which is when this current surge began, through December 22nd, the daily number of cases increased by 965%.”
These numbers continue to impact the healthcare system, Ferrer said.
Meanwhile, at least 73 people in L.A. County died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, health officials said Monday.
Ferrer said an additional 432 people died over the weekend — a number that “reflects the delayed reporting associated with the Spectrum outage, and the holiday.” The county is in the final stages of confirming that number, she said.
The total number of deaths in L.A. County now stands at 9,555, close to breaking the 10,000 barrier, “the saddest milestone of all,” Ferrer said.
L.A. County is now averaging a death every 10 minutes, she said.
“It has been hard to find joy this holiday season,” Ferrer said. “The sad reality is that all indicators tell us that our situation may only get worse as we begin 2021.”
On Christmas Eve, 148 people in L.A. County died of COVID-19, supervisor Hilda Solis said during Monday’s briefing.
“These are figures that can’t be normalized,” Solis said. “Just like the sound of ambulance sirens, we can’t tune this out.”
While we still don’t know the effects of holiday gatherings, Solis said the worst could be yet to come.
“The situation we’re currently facing is very alarming. And frankly, the alarm was pulled over a month ago, but people did not heed that warning,” she said.
Solis said she understands people are frustrated and want to see their families during the holidays, but doing that safely is nearly impossible even though the person tests negative for the virus.
Ferrer echoed Solis’ sentiment, noting that “what we learned from Thanksgiving applies now. Mingling with people outside of your immediate household is one of the leading causes for the current surge.”
She said the current coronavirus surge is “so overwhelming” that the public health department’s outbreak management team is “no longer able to investigate every single outbreak.” Instead, they’re prioritizing outbreaks at high-risk locations such as skilled nursing facilities, schools, and daycare centers.
“Please do your part today, tomorrow, and into 2021, to help stop this deadly virus from taking more lives,” Ferrer said.