Barbara Ferrer of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health speaks at the Thursday, May 4 briefing. Photo: Facebook video screenshot
Less than two weeks in, Los Angeles County has already recorded more coronavirus cases in December than in any other month.
New data reported Friday, Dec. 11, showed no signs that the current surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths could slow any time soon. The total number of cases reported in the county surpassed the 500,000-mark on Friday, hitting 501,635.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Friday reported 13,815 new cases, the highest jump in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic. And the spike brought the total number reported so far in December to 100,716. Until now, the highest number of cases reported in a month in Los Angeles County was in November, when 93,301 were reported.
“We’re in uncharted territory at this point,” Ferrer said during a media briefing. “We’re seeing daily numbers of cases and hospitalizations that we’ve not experienced and, frankly, did not anticipate. Our intensive care unit bed capacity continues to drop. We’re on a very dangerous track.”
In addition to the new cases, LA County also reported 50 more coronavirus-related deaths, including two that were reported Thursday in Long Beach. The county’s death toll is now 8,199.
Those numbers did not include any data reported on Friday from Long Beach or Pasadena, both of which maintain their own health departments.
So far in December, the county has seen an average of 49 people die per day from the coronavirus. To this point, July has been LA County’s deadliest month of the pandemic, with 1,252 deaths, or an average of 42 per day. So unless LA County’s average daily deaths begins to drop — which seems unlikely at this point — December is on track to become the county’s deadliest month of the pandemic.
To illustrate the magnitude of the current surge, Ferrer said the number of average daily deaths a month ago was 18. Two weeks ago, it was 30, and this week, it was 51.
Ferrer said that in two weeks, LA County could be seeing an average of 80 deaths to the virus each day.
“These numbers are overwhelming,” she said, “and the grief our community continues to experience can’t be comprehended.”
There were 3,624 people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Los Angeles County on Friday, Ferrer said, 23% of whom are being treated in intensive care and 15% of whom were on ventilators.
Because the growth in hospitalizations tends to lag behind the growth in cases, Ferrer said the current number of hospitalizations stems from two weeks ago, when the county saw an average of 4,200 new cases per day.
With the current average of 10,200 new cases per day, she said, LA County can expect to see 7,326 hospitalizations per day in two weeks. And given the current data, about 1,685 of those patients could be expected to need treatment in intensive care units.
“This is alarming to all of us, given there are only around 2,100 ICU adult beds across all of our county hospitals,” Ferrer said, “and many of those beds are essential for all of the patients that need care for other illnesses.”
Ferrer said the current surge likely stems from gatherings over Thanksgiving. But even before that long weekend, LA County was already seeing spikes in coronavirus transmission.
“Now,” she said, “we have a surge on top of a surge.”
Ferrer said, though, that it’s still too soon to see the impacts of the regional stay-at-home order that went into effect earlier this week. The order, which was triggered because intensive care bed capacity throughout Southern California fell below 15%, will remain in place through at least Dec. 27.
As of Friday, the region’s intensive care bed capacity was 6.2%.
“It usually takes us two-to-three weeks to understand what the impact is of our ‘Safer at Home’ orders,” she said, “so for now, the plea is really: Let’s stop the surge by making sure we’re doing everything we know we can do,” which is to stay at home as much as possible, she said.
If, in a few weeks, it appears the current orders are not having their intended effect, Ferrer said tighter restrictions could come.
“We may need to look with the state at other possible options for us,” she said before urging residents to comply with the current rules.
“I think what we have right now would work if we had almost everybody doing it,” she said. “I think it will slow the surge. We just need everyone to start doing what they need to do.”