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As OC Hospitals Are Overwhelmed, Health Officials Around The Region Plead With People To Stay Home

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Dr. José Mayorga, Executive Director in family medicine at UCI Medical Center, receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, the first day shots were available in Orange County. (Chava Sanchez/LAist

Orange County health officials today reported 1,486 patients are hospitalized in the county with COVID-19. That includes 319 ICU patients, a startling increase of more than 100 people in just one day.

Both are new records.

Officials blame the recent surge on gatherings where people are not wearing face coverings.

And that prompted this emotional plea from county health director Dr. Clayton Chau at this week's board of supervisors meeting: Stay home.

"I am fearful. I lose sleep every night. I am afraid — I've never been so afraid of Christmas and New Year in my life like I am now because I don't want... I can't imagine what it would be like after the holiday if people are not listening and people are not complying and get together."

Chau's plea at Tuesday's meeting came the day before vaccinations began in Orange County.

Tonight, Orange County Public Health Agency officials announced so many hospitals were requesting ambulances be diverted to other facilities that they were halting the practice, for now. A statement issued by Dr. Carl Schultz, the county's Emergency Medical Services director, said:

"In our current COVID-19 situation, due to overwhelming numbers of patients presenting for emergency departments for care across the county, almost all hospitals were running on diversion. If nothing was done, ambulances would soon run out of hospitals that could care for their patients."

Many public health officials have made increasingly emotional requests that the public take this surge in new cases seriously. The steep rise comes just weeks after Thanksgiving, with Hannukah currently under way and Christmas and New Year's fast approaching.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told our newsroom that she shares her Orange County colleague's fears.

"We do every day have to announce all the people who passed away, and every day that number grows bigger and bigger, and at this point that train is out of the station," Ferrer said, on a day of record deaths and new cases in her county. "Many more people will need to be hospitalized and many more people unfortunately are going to pass away, all during this holiday season."

The bottom-line message from health officials: If you have holiday plans that involve travel or gathering with people outside your household, please re-think them.


OVERALL LOOK AT ORANGE COUNTY NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose Orange County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers were current as of Wednesday, Dec. 15, and do not include today's updates:

READ MORE:

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Unheard LA: Join Our Storytellers Live As They Talk About The Journey To Identity

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Unheard LA is KPCC/LAist's live storytelling series featuring authentic first-person experiences. As we take a break from the stage, we've created a series of new virtual experiences that revisit some stories from past shows as starting points for deeper listening and insightful conversations.

Tonight at 6:30, host Bruce Lemon, Jr. and Race In LA's Dana Amihere will welcome storytellers Daniel Mazzacane, Ash Nichols, and Pickle to share deeply personal moments in their journeys to fully realizing their identities.

Pay-what-you-want tickets available here. Watch live above starting at 6:30 p.m.

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

Will LA County Bring Back Emergency Hospitals?

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The L.A. Convention Center earlier this year when it was converted into a field hospital. (Via L.A. Mayor's Twitter account)

As cases surge and hospitals are pushed to their max capacity, one question we've heard a lot: Why hasn't L.A. County triggered emergency field hospitals?

Remember, early in the pandemic they were set up at places such as the L.A. Convention Center and the USNS Mercy, which docked at the Port of L.A.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told us Wednesday that they're not ruling out opening those sites in the future. Right now, however, she says the main issue is making sure hospitals have enough staff:

"The easiest place to expand capacity — what we call surge capacity — is at an existing hospital where there's a large infrastructure in place. Patients that come in all need labs, they need x-rays, etc. So you can imagine the infrastructure that's already at the hospital that supports your patients is really essential for treating all your patients."

Ferrer said many hospitals have set up tents on their own property to help deal with overflow patients. She also said L.A. County has sent a request to the state for more hospital staff.

The county today recorded the highest single-day numbers for new deaths, 138, and new cases over the past 24 hours, more than 21,000, though that number includes a backlog of about 7,000 cases.

Listen to the full interview:


OVERALL LOOK AT LA COUNTY NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose L.A. County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers were current as of Wednesday, Dec. 16, and do not include today's updates:

READ MORE:

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate now.

Wage Gains For Low-Income Californians Erased By COVID-19

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A report that examines income inequality in the COVID era found that the economic effects of the pandemic have widened the wage gap between the haves and have-nots in California, erasing economic gains made in the past couple of years by low-income workers after an already slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008.

The study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that COVID-19 especially affected essential workers, who are more likely to be African American, Latino, low-income or women, and that the pandemic has exacerbated systemic disparities shaped by economic forces and recessions occurring since the 1980s.

The effect on Los Angeles is especially worrying, with unemployment even higher than in the Inland Empire, when the reverse is usually true.

To me, [it] speaks to the challenge of both the health crisis that we’re in and the related economic crisis,” said Sarah Bohn, PPIC’s vice president of research and lead author of the study, speaking on KPCC's local news and culture show, Take Two. “I think both of those are contributing to the worst unemployment rate and underemployment rate in Los Angeles.”

Those who researched the study made several recommendations to ensure an equitable recovery, including immediate federal relief for the hardest-hit workers, which kept many out of poverty at the beginning of the pandemic.

The authors called on the state to tackle long-term inequality with measures that include providing child care, boosting access to education, and addressing other systemic barriers that contribute to lack of economic opportunity for marginalized communities:

“The economic, health, and social challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic are among the greatest California has faced in its 170-year history. Without deliberate policy action, the disproportionate effects of the pandemic and the recession will likely exacerbate long-standing trends of growing income inequality and limited economic mobility.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW:

READ MORE ABOUT THE REPORT HERE:

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Excitement at UC Irvine Med Center As First OC Health Workers Get Vaccinated

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A pharmacist from UCI Health preps a COVID-19 vaccine for injection. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Orange County got its first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this morning. The first 10 employees to get vaccinated at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange were nurses, doctors, and custodial workers.

Staff cheered after every vaccination.

Erik Mara gets vaccinated at UCI Medical Center. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Erik Mara was the second one to get the shot. A respiratory therapist who recently recovered from COVID-19, he expressed the relief and hope many were feeling.

“Knowing the fact that the vaccine is here, you feel more assured. It’s going to decrease the numbers of Covid in the near future and that's what we’re hoping. To be honest with you, our hospital right now — we have no beds.”

UCI Medical Center received an initial batch of nearly 3,000 doses today.

It plans to have vaccinated 2,000 employees by Sunday.


OVERALL LOOK AT ORANGE COUNTY NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose Orange County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers are current as of Tuesday, Dec. 15:

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate now.

'Hero Pay' For Grocery Workers Gains Traction In Long Beach And LA

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Outside an Aldi on Atlantic Ave. in Long Beach the signs read "heroes work here." The city council is considering a $4 an hour pay boost to recognized the hazards of the job. Megan Garvey/LAist

The Long Beach City Council this week passed a resolution that would require "hero pay" for all frontline grocery workers, a move other cities, including Los Angeles, are also considering.

The ordinance would require grocery stores to pay their hourly employees an additional $4 an hour in hazard pay wages for 120 days. It would apply to companies with at least 300 employees nationwide.

The move came as an alarming rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths continued across the nation, with L.A. County health officials saying today that 1 in 80 county residents is now believed to be infectious.

At Tuesday's Long Beach City County meeting, Councilwoman Mary Zendejas said grocery workers are putting a lot on the line:

"We are living in such uncertain times with this pandemic and I'm hopeful that things will get better and hope that all of my colleagues will support our frontline workers who are risking their lives to bring food to our table."

Last night's vote was unanimous. It directs the city attorney to work up that hazard pay ordinance.

On Twitter, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia says he'll sign it as soon as it's passed — and that could be as soon as next Tuesday.

A proposal for additional pay for grocery workers is making it's way to the L.A. City Council, too.

L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Mitch O'Farrell have asked the city attorney to draft an emergency ordinance boosting pay.

In their motion this week, Martinez and O'Farrell noted that "grocery workers cannot choose to work from home — they must come in to work to do their jobs, which involves substantial interaction with customers."

Also:

"The number of COVID-19 clusters within the grocery industry in the City of Los Angeles continues to rise significantly. The health threat that these grocery workers face cannot be overstated — recent studies before the current surge report grocery workers to be 5 times more likely to test positive."

The increase they're proposing in L.A. would be $1 an hour higher than Long Beach, so an additional $5 an hour. A decision on that measure might not come until 2021, now just over two weeks away.

READ MORE:

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'The Worst Is Still Before Us': LA County Sees Highest Single-Day Death Toll From COVID-19

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A nurse cares for a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Sharp Grossmont Hospital on May 5 in La Mesa. In L.A. County, ICU capacity has dipped to .5%. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Los Angeles County continues to break its own COVID-19 records, as officials today reported both the highest single-day number of new deaths — and the highest number of new cases over the past 24 hours.

Health officials warn that the worst is yet to come as more COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm the region's hospital system.

L.A. County today recorded:

  • another 138 deaths
  • more than 21,000 new cases

Both numbers broke records, even without counting a backlog of about 7,000 positive cases reported earlier in the week.

Community spread of the virus is now so rampant that officials estimate about 1 in 80 county residents are infected and infecting others.

Health and Human Services Director Christina Ghaly warned that even with the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, the county is in for a rough few weeks ahead — and the surge could last through January:

"While a very important ray of hope, the vaccine will not prevent the surge from happening. There's simply not enough doses in a short enough timeframe to make a difference among the general infection rate in the regular population."

Ghaly also said the current surge in hospitalizations has been so fast that their projections are now "off the grid." They've since had to adjust their prediction modeling graphs to accommodate the sheer number of COVID-19 patients who are sick enough to need hospital care.

As of today, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said more than 4,600 COVID-19 patients are currently in hospitals countywide — and about a fifth of them are sick enough to need intensive care.

"Because we continue to see more cases, and more hospitalizations, increases in daily deaths will stay on this very tragic and troubling course for some time."

That surge in the number of COVID-19 patients who need hospital care is continuing to put pressure on local healthcare systems.

As of today, Southern California's total ICU bed availability dropped to just .5%.


OVERALL LOOK AT LA COUNTY NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose L.A. County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers were current as of Wednesday, Dec. 16, and do not include today's updates:

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate now.

Suely Saro Makes History As Long Beach's First Cambodian American Councilmember

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Suely Saro is the first Cambodian American to ever serve on the Long Beach City Council (Courtesy of Suely Saro)

Suely Saro on Tuesday became the first Cambodian American to join the Long Beach City Council, home to the largest Cambodian population outside that country.

Saro's victory was viewed as a major feat for local Cambodian American organizers who have been pushing for greater representation at City Hall.

Saro, a long-time community advocate, said she would champion the rights of immigrants and workers.

"I think representation matters in that it's a reflection of seeing that you matter at an official council level," Saro said. "Decisions are going to be made with you in consideration."

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Motel Dwellers Say They Were Evicted To Make Room For Homeless Housing

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Denise Parral and her son Sam at the Studio 6 Motel in Commerce (Aaron Schrank/LAist)

L.A. County was all set to purchase its 10th vacant hotel and convert the property into housing for the homeless as part of California's new Project Homekey program, but there was one minor problem: the Studio 6 motel in Commerce wasn't vacant.

Earlier this month, after the motel owner kicked everyone out, dozens of occupants claimed they'd been living in the motel for months — or even years — and were being forced into homelessness.

Several families believe they were illegally evicted and denied rights like relocation fees. Others say they were locked out of their rooms or that management didn't give them any notice about the sale.

"It's an irony," said activist Patty Chavez. "I mean, you have to leave families homeless in order for you to house the homeless? Why don't you work together with these families, get them a room or place these families elsewhere so you can start the program?"

Now, county officials have delayed the sale, while they sort out if occupants have rights of residency — and if not, where they will go.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Morning Brief: Filling Kamala Harris’ Shoes

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Democratic vice presidential running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, speaks during the first press conference with Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware, on Aug. 12, 2020. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Good morning, L.A.

As California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris gears up for her new role as Vice President, leaders and activists in the state are pushing Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint another Black woman to her soon-to-be-empty seat.

My colleague Libby Denkmann reports that a group called #LetsKeeptheSeat held rallies in L.A. and Sacramento yesterday, urging Newsom to select one of two Congresswomen: Karen Bass of L.A. or Barbara Lee of Oakland.

“We want to make sure that we do not lose our seat and are not erased from [the Senate],” said Molly Watson, a spokesperson for the progressive group Courage California.

But #LetsKeeptheSeat isn’t the only group with an interest in Harris’ position. A handful of Latina and Latino officials and leaders have also called on Newsom to appoint a representative from their community, with California Secretary of State Alex Padilla as a leading candidate.

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.


What You Need To Know Today

Coronavirus Updates: Southern California only has 1.7% ICU capacity remaining, and daily COVID-19 deaths have quadrupled in the past month. COVID-19 infection rates in California are consistently higher in low-income neighborhoods than more affluent areas, according to an analysis by ZIP code.

Shootings By Officers: The L.A. District Attorney’s office found that officers acted lawfully when they opened fire on a suspect outside the Silver Lake Trader Joe's in 2018, striking and killing assistant store manager Melyda Corado in the process. The L.A. Police Commission found the fatal officer shooting of Daniel Hernandez was partially out of policy.

L.A.’s New Reps: The two newest members of the L.A. City Council, Nithya Raman and Mark Ridley-Thomas, share a common goal: shaking up L.A.’s response to the homelessness crisis. LAUSD’s newest board member, Tanya Ortiz Franklin, was seated.

Dining Out: From Temecula to Solvang, more SoCal restaurants are openly defying the state's outdoor dining ban -- and the heart of the resistance seems to be in Orange County. COVID-19 has threatened their explosive growth, but Southern California's food halls keep fighting to make it work.


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