Unless more people follow precautions, “This winter will be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation” according to CDC director Robert Redfield on Wednesday. That’s a strong statement given the Influenza of 1918 took the lives of an estimated 675,000 Americans. But worried public health officials are going there as the current Covid-19 pandemic deepens.
“We’re seeing terrifying increases in numbers in L.A. County,” said that region’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, on Wednesday. “That can only be turned around if everyone — businesses and individuals — use the tools to slow the spread.”
The usually optimistic Ferrer struck a more somber tone on Wednesday, the day after the county saw its highest number of daily new infections — by far — since the beginning of the pandemic.”
“We do have a choice, each one of us, to make,” said Ferrer. “Do we want to be a part of the solution to this horrifying surge or do we want to be the problem. Because where you fall in this effort now has a life or death consequence.”
Indeed. On Tuesday health officials confirmed 7,593 new infections in the county, blowing past the previous high of 6,124 seen last week. The daily test positivity rate on Wednesday was 12%, up from 7% just over one week ago. That indicates the virus is infecting more people at a faster rate than ever in L.A., even as the county is delivering more tests than ever before.
Ferrer reported 5987 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the cumulative total to 414,185. There are 2,439 people hospitalized with Covid-19, the highest level of the entire pandemic.
The hospital numbers are worrisome, given that California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday that L.A. could run out of ICU stations by mid-December. Newsom also strongly suggested some sort of stricter Stay-at-Home order would be forthcoming from the state. That looked even more likely after CA on Wednesday reported a record number of new cases what was about 1/3 higher than the previous mark set last week.
To drive home the urgency of the situation, Ferrer shared a series of slides showing sharp Covid-19 increases across the board in the past week. They were indicated by near-vertical lines.
That sentiment was echoed on Wednesday by Christina Ghaly, the Los Angles Director of Health and Human Services. She said that while the local hospital system still has 963 beds available, the number of ICU beds has dwindled to 122. That’s 122 ICU beds for a county with a population of 10 million.
Staffing, not beds, is the crucial issue in the ICU. More specially-trained nurses and doctors are not easy to come by. Given the current numbers and current “tight” staffing, Ghaly said the county’s models show that, “We will have a shortage of ICU beds over the next 2-4 weeks.” An inadequate number ICU beds means that people who need critical care won’t get it, and a greater percentage of Covid-19 patients will die.
“We’re now beginning to see a sharp increase in daily deaths,” announced Ferrer. “Because we know these deaths reflect case counts from a month ago, as cases continue to increase, we should all be extremely distressed about what this means for daily deaths.”
Watch the L.A. County health update below.
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