Los Angeles County reported a staggering 37,215 new Covid-19 cases today, by far the highest single-day number of the entire pandemic. Hospitalizations and deaths have doubled in the past week as well, although those counts are still well short of the peaks set during last winter’s surge in infections.
The daily cases number broke a mark set by the county just last week. They were up 37% from the 27,091 reported last Friday. The county also reported 30 more Covid-related deaths on Thursday, which is more than double the 12 reported last Friday.
Meanwhile, state figures showed there were 2,661 Covid-positive patients in county hospitals as of Thursday, up from 2,461 on Wednesday and more than double the 1,365 recorded last Friday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care units was 352 on Thursday, up from 330 a day earlier.
The count of Covid-positive patients hasn’t been that high since mid-February of 2021. But today’s total is still well shy of the peak of more than 8,000 reached last January at the height of that winter’s surge in virus infections.
While hospital numbers have been rising, officials have noted the generally lower rise in the overall number of Covid and non-Covid patients.
“Unlike last winter’s surge when overall hospital census increased pretty significantly — and we also saw that over the summer surge — now with the current surge the hospital census has remained much more stable,” said county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “This can change. …But I do want to note that we haven’t seen the same rise we saw at the beginning of the winter surge last year with our surge in hospitalizations this time.”
In fact, many Covid-positive patients in hospitals likely didn’t realize they were infected until they went the hospital for a completely different reason. Ferrer said that in early November — before the highly transmissible Omicron Covid variant began spreading — about 75% of Covid-positive patients were hospitalized specifically due to illness associated with
the infection. But as of late December, only 45% of Covid patients were admitted specifically due to the virus. The others only tested positive when they were admitted for treatment of other issues.
“It really makes a lot of sense when you’ve got a lot of community transmission you’re going to have more people testing positive who are asymptomatic for Covid illness but in this case getting hospitalized for something else,” she said. “It’s encouraging to see there are fewer people hospitalized for Covid illness during this surge, especially compared with prior surges. But I do want to note that even if folks aren’t in there getting care for Covid-related illness, Covid-positive patients represent a substantial strain on the health care system.
“People who test positive for Covid require resource-intensive transmission-based precautions, including isolation rooms, cohorted staff and personal protective equipment, all of which add a particularly high burden when so many of our hospitals are…short on staff,” she said.
Ferrer also noted that, given the massive spike in cases of late, it’s “early days yet” in terms of hospitalizations, which usually lag infections by 2-3 weeks. She also noted that, “because of the increases in hospitalizations, we could soon begin to see some increases in the number of deaths.” That bump in deaths, however, could be “many weeks” away, given that that count lags hospitalizations.
Statistics on Covid-positive hospital patients released Thursday also continued to show that unvaccinated people are far more likely to wind up hospitalized than vaccinated people. Ferrer noted that hospital numbers are rising in all categories — unvaccinated, vaccinated, and vaccinated-and-boosted. But unvaccinated people are 38 times more likely to wind up hospitalized than people who have been fully vaccinated and received a booster.
Surging infection numbers prompted the county this week to amend its public health order, requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
The order, issued Wednesday, will take effect Jan. 17 and requires employers to provide affected workers with “well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks, or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks.”
The revised order also amended the definition of outdoor “mega events,” where masking is required, to 5,000 or more attendees; and the definition of indoor “mega” events to 500 or more people. The numbers align with those in the state’s health order. The county’s order also “recommends” that food and drink be consumed only in designated dining areas.
The upgraded mask requirement for county workplaces mirrors an order released late last week by the county for K-12 schools, requiring teachers and staff to wear higher-grade face coverings. USC announced this week it will require all students and staff to wear higher-grade masks when in-person classes resume.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 21.9% as of Thursday. That rate was below 1% a month ago. The testing-positivity rate, however, may be artificially low due to the number of people who use take-home tests and don’t report the results.
Demand for Covid tests has been growing rapidly, with long lines becoming a common sight at testing centers across the county. The demand has also led to a run on take-home tests, which quickly vanish from store shelves.
Los Angeles County this week was forced to suspend its program offering free at-home tests. That program allowed residents to simply sign up through the county’s website, allowing them to get a test mailed to their home through Fulgent Genetics. The county’s website now says the program is suspended, with Fulgent saying it is on hold “due to high demand and shipping constraints.”
With kids returning to school this week and next, Ferrer was asked about whether the increase in numbers could force some campuses to go back to online-only learning.
“We think that there is testing capacity at the schools now to continue with that routine testing,” she said, even while acknowledging that “some schools have not received their test kits.” Ferrer cited confidence in in-person education, given the additional measures recently enacted.
Ferrer said efforts are being made to expand the number of Covid testing sites.
Overall, 79% of eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 71% are fully vaccinated. Of the county’s overall population of 10.3 million people, 75% have received at least one dose, and 67% are fully vaccinated.
City News Service contributed to this report.