June 24, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

L.A. COVID cases near 1 million; officials expect new surge

Los Angeles County is fast approaching 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, a massive milestone that means one out of every 10 Angelenos has been infected at some point during the pandemic.

That L.A. County, by far the nation’s most populous, has such a high case count is not a shock, but the rapidity with which infections have grown is staggering.

It took the county nearly 11 months to top 500,000 coronavirus cases, which occurred in mid-December. At the current rate, L.A. County will crest the 1-million mark by the end of this week, doubling its colossal case count in a month.

The approaching benchmark comes two weeks before the one-year anniversary of the county’s first confirmed coronavirus case.

Even after months of living with the threat of COVID-19, and under various restrictions aimed at curbing transmission of the virus, officials say it’s more important than ever for residents to rededicate themselves to infection-prevention protocols, and redouble their efforts to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

“Now is not the time to meet up with friends at your home to watch the game. It’s not the time to go for a walk without your face covering,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

“All it takes is one mistake and soon, five, 10 or 20 other people become infected. This deadly virus continues to spread at alarming rates, and the most important way to stop it in its tracks is to avoid interactions with others and protect ourselves at all times.”

Over the past week, L.A. County has reported an average of 14,765 new coronavirus cases per day, the equivalent of 10 people testing positive every minute, according to data compiled by The Times.

The sustained high number of cases is distressing in the near term — as it demonstrates the breakneck speed with which the disease is blazing through the community — and portends disaster in the weeks ahead as hundreds of additional Angelenos fall ill enough to require hospitalization.

More than 2,000 people countywide have died from COVID-19 since New Year’s Day, and L.A. County has averaged about 219 COVID-19 deaths every day over the last week, a rate higher than any during the pandemic.

While the arrival of vaccines in the last month foreshadows the eventual end of the pandemic, they will offer little immediate relief — particularly as officials gird for the possibility that L.A. County’s already harrowing numbers could deteriorate further in the wake of a new holiday-fueled surge.

“We understand it’s been a long and exhausting journey these past 12 months,” Ferrer said. “With the rollout of vaccinations, there’s hope for a brighter future. However, we need to make sure that everyone survives to benefit from the vaccine.”

The county’s daily case counts have fluctuated in recent weeks, but officials have said those variations are linked to seasonal delays in data reporting and testing interruptions, and higher infection numbers are likely.

“Just like what occurred after Christmas, and the dip, we fully expect to see another increase now that we’re almost two weeks out from the New Year’s holiday,” Ferrer said during a briefing Monday.

Based on those predictions, officials are recommending further safety measures, going so far as to urge people who must go out of their households to even wear a mask at home if they live with an elderly person or someone who has an underlying medical condition.

When leaving home to access essential services, Ferrer added, people should bring sanitizing wipes to disinfect their phones, car keys and anything else others may have touched, including work stations and door handles.

“Now is the time to stay home as much as possible,” she said. “Now is the time to avoid, as much as possible, contact with others that aren’t in your household.”

Lowering the number of new infections, officials say, is the only way to prevent more people from dying of COVID-19 and to relieve stress on the region’s healthcare system.

Though the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized countywide has stabilized recently, at just shy of 8,000, the sustained increase has forced some county hospitals to set up beds in hallways and even in gift shops and keep some patients waiting in ambulances for hours.

“We want to make sure that whether you have COVID or need some other form of care for a heart attack, a stroke, a traumatic injury, a car accident, that the lifesaving services of hospitals are there for you,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s director of health services.

Any new spike in infections, officials warn, will trigger a resulting wave of new patients requiring professional care — creating an unsustainable strain on already overtaxed hospitals and intensive care units.

And L.A. is seeing “signs of this deadly surge continuing, even though the numbers of hospitalized patients across the county have stabilized for now,” Ghaly said during a briefing Monday.

“We’re watching the data very carefully over the next couple of days, as this is the time when we would anticipate beginning to see the surge in patients from the recent Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” she said.

State officials, however, struck a more optimistic tone Monday, saying that while the ramifications of recent travel and gatherings have yet to be fully realized, it appears that the post-holiday surge may not be as severe as expected.

The number of coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized throughout California has plateaued at just under 22,000 and the number of new admissions has also trailed off.

“We’re hopeful that we’re seeing the surge now and it isn’t as significant as we’d anticipated, but we still have a few more days before we can confidently say that it isn’t as high as we had feared,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary.

In the meantime, he said, “we continue to reach out to get additional staff for the hospitals. We’re continuing to assess the oxygen situation, making sure that the 911 systems are robust and able to go to the places with capacity.”

“This week,” Gov. Gavin Newsom added, “in so many ways will be determinative.”