“This very clearly is the latest surge for the winter holidays and New Year’s.” That was Los Angeles Public Health Chief Science Officer Dr. Paul Simon on Friday. “It’s likely to continue over the next week or two. We do expect these numbers continue to be high over the next couple weeks,” he said.
Los Angeles County reported another 18,313 COVID-19 cases on Friday, one of the highest daily totals of the pandemic. Thursday’s number of new cases was 19,719 — another near record. The county also reported 300 daily coronavirus-related deaths for the first time ever, at 318.
But on Monday, other officials were less sure about the surge.
Asked about the surge, California Director of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly said, “We still have a few days before we can confidently say.” Ghlay then observed that the situation “looks encouraging at the moment.”
His boss, Governor Gavin Newsom, immediately sought to temper that optimistic assessment emphasizing, “At the moment.”
Newsom reminded Californians that “the Monday data is often lower” than that seen later in the week. “We’ll know more as the dust settles and the reporting lags we often see over the weekend,” said Newsom. “This week will be profoundly significant in terms of being able to answer that question.”
The governor announced 39,839 new positive Covid-19 tests on Monday. He indicated that the 14-day test positivity rate was up to of 13.7% from 12.6%, but that rise was not as steep as it had been.
Newsom said on Monday that the number of people hospitalized increased just 6% over the last 14 days. He called it “among the smallest increases we’ve seen over a two-week period in some time.”
“It’s just a point of some optimism, a little bit of light,” said the governor, before warning that another jump in hospitalizations is still possible given the recent winter holidays.
The number of deaths reported related to the virus statewide in the past 24 hours was 264. But Newsom warned that the 7-day average of daily deaths was 476 and that the lives of over 5,500 Californians had been lost to the pandemic in last 14 days.
In Los Angeles on Monday, Supervisor Hilda Solis said definitively at the county’s Covid briefing: “We’re beginning to see the surge from the holiday season materialize. The situation is more dire than ever before. Hospitals are on the brink of triaging care, which means decisions will have to be made as to who can receive essential resources.”
The county’s director of Public Health, Barbara Ferrer, acknowledged that the graph of new infections “does show the small dip in new cases following the New Year’s holiday,” but Ferrer attributed the dip to decreased testing. “We fully expect to see another increase now that we’re two weeks out from the Christmas holiday,” she said.
“Covid kills someone every 8 minutes” in L.A. County, said Ferrer. “Ten people are testing positive every minute.”
Ferrer reported 12,617 new cases on Monday. That’s down from 18,313 new infections reported Friday and a near-record 19,719 daily cases on Thursday.
There were 137 new virus deaths reported Monday for a total of 12,387 to date in L.A. County. In just the last week the region lost 1,500 people to the pandemic, said Ferrer.
On Monday, 7,910 were hospitalized with the virus in L.A. The county’s director of Health Services, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said that “the numbers of hospitalized people have stabilized for now.” But, she warned, the number of available ICU beds across all hospitals in the region was down to 46. That’s for a county of 10 million people. There were 650 available hospital beds for the same population, said the director.
“We have one private hospital that’s currently on internal disaster,” said Ghaly, “and the EMS agency is working with them to troubleshoot their problems which are mainly related to staffing.”
“The graph does show the small dip in new cases following the New Year holidays due to decreased testing,” said Ferrer. “We fully expect to see another increase now that we’re two weeks out from the Christmas holiday.”
The confusion over a surge in virus numbers makes the sudden decision, announced Sunday, to end testing at two major L.A. sites — among the largest in the nation — all the more puzzling. Dodger Stadium and the VA campus in Brentwood account for 1/3 of the county’s testing capacity, according to Ferrer. Those sites will focus solely on delivering vaccinations beginning Monday, according to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.