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COVID Is — Again — Sending More Angelenos To Already Stressed Hospitals

A line graph showing COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths since July, 2020. Currently, cases and hospitalizations are increasing.
COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths since July 2020. Currently, cases and hospitalizations are increasing.
(Stock
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Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)
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New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rose across Los Angeles County in the past week, as federal officials moved the warning level to “medium” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

“We could be moved by CDC into the high community level as soon as next Thursday,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “We had more people report positive COVID tests after they came back from Thanksgiving then we’ve ever had before.”

The COVID-19 community level has been in the low category since the beginning of September. Now rising cases and subsequent hospitalizations are prompting officials to warn of a potential surge of COVID-19, as cooler weather settles over L.A., forcing people indoors while holiday gatherings take place.

Cases have risen 180% in the last month, fueled by a mix of omicron subvariants.

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“People have lost interest in following the data on the pandemic… and most people are not aware we’re seeing increases in cases and the number of people being hospitalized, and this is the time to take action before it disrupts your own family,” Ferrer said.

The county saw on average over 2,700 cases per day in the past week. That’s a nearly 85% increase from the nearly 1,500 reported cases on average during a seven day period ending Nov. 17.

The county’s transmission rate remains high. The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 has increased, with about 192 patients and 8 deaths per day.

A table showing increased hospitalizations, pushing L.A. County into the CDC's medium community tier.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

About 45% of the people who test positive for COVID in the hospital are there to treat the disease. Other patients are caught during routine testing and are in the hospital for other reasons. But either way, it stresses the health system because special COVID protocols must be followed to avoid transmission to other patients and staff.

L.A. area hospitals and health care providers are also coping with sharp increases in flu cases, “well beyond where we were at this point in previous years,” and surging cases of RSV, a respiratory virus, Ferrer said.

“The risk has really increased to the place where the health care system is stressed,” she said.

Mask Mandate Could Return

Wearing high quality masks such as N95 or KN95s is “strongly recommended” in public spaces like grocery stores or in open plan offices by county health officials.

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“It’s a quick way to try to reduce transmission,” Ferrer said.

The last county-wide indoor public mask mandate ended last March, after the winter surge subsided. Ferrer said another indoor mask mandate is on the table if hospital indicators stay high for two weeks in a row.

“If both hospital indicators, the new COVID-19 admissions and the proportion of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID patients surpasses the threshold for high and our case rate is at or above 200 new cases per 100,000 people, L.A. County will follow the CDC guidance for communities designated at the high community level, including universal indoor masking,” Ferrer said.

A line graph showing flu cases each season since 2018. In the 2022 season, flu cases are already past the peak in almost all previous years depicted.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

The bivalent booster is still available, and Ferrer said now is the time to get it if you haven’t already.

“Even if you had COVID before, it’s important to take common sense precautions,” Ferrer said.

Almost 1.2 million people in L.A. County have received the bivalent booster, but that’s just 16% of those eligible. That leaves 6.28 million eligible residents who have not gotten the shot.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.