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With More Than 3K New COVID Cases Friday, Hospital Staffing Now An Acute Concern

A massive Christmas tree decorated in gold and red ornaments sits in the entrance to a building . People walk past it on both sides, some masked, some not.
As Southern California heads into the holidays, there are new worries about a surge in COVID cases.
(Mario Tama
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L.A. County is reporting more than 3,000 new COVID cases on Friday, the highest daily total in months. And we're seeing more cases of the new omicron variant. At least 38 have been confirmed.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says omicron is expected to "circulate more widely in L.A. County in the very near future…leading to many more cases over a short period of time."

Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported the first case of community spread of omicron Friday and Orange County reported its first case of the variant.

In many of these cases, the individuals are fully vaccinated and experiencing mild symptoms, but public health officials are expressing serious concerns about the rising infection rates.

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NPR is reporting on a variety of possible scenarios:

According to some of those scenarios, the omicron wave might only intensify the delta surge that's already underway. But in the most pessimistic scenario, it could trigger a tidal wave of infections that would be worse than last winter's massive surge.

Locally, Ferrer is urging anyone who's eligible to get vaccinated or boosted right away. And she's recommending that anyone who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine get boosted with Pfizer or Moderna.

In all, 3,370 new cases of COVID were reported Friday and 24 deaths. Currently, 772 people hospitalized in L.A. County have COVID.

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Word of this surge in L.A. County comes as Southern California hospitals are again bracing for a rough holiday season.

Public health officials are forecasting a steady rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations because, in part, of the highly-infectious omicron variant plus the still-present Delta variant.

Burnout Among Hospital Staff

And then there's the issue of staffing.

The staffing problem isn't exactly new — hospitals have been short-staffed for much of the pandemic.

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But at this late stage of burnout, hospitals are bleeding staff, including non-medical staff.

"And you don't think about things like that until it's like, oh my God, we don't have cafeteria workers, even maintenance workers are hard to come by," said Paul Young who represents the Hospital Association of Southern California.

He says registered nurses are largely leaving for staffing agencies, where they can get paid a lot more to fill in at hospitals around the country.

"A nurse can go work in Florida, New York, anywhere where it's surging."

As for the supply of nurses, many universities have had to cut classes during the pandemic, making the shortage even worse.

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New Rules

The are also new rules for attending large events in Los Angeles County in effect.

Anyone attending indoor or outdoor mega-events in the county who cannot provide proof of full vaccination is required to provide proof of a negative COVID test.

  • If it's an antigen test, you must provide proof within one day.
  • If it's a PCR test, you must provide proof within two days of the event.

Children under age 2 are exempt from the rule for indoor events, and children under 5 are exempt for outdoor events.

This is a change from the previous health order, which required proof of a negative test within 72 hours.

The county defines mega events as indoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people or outdoor events of more than 10,000 people.

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