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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)
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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.

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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%.

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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:

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