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LA County reports more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases, fueled by omicron – Daily News

Los Angeles County reported 20,198 new cases on Thursday, Dec. 30, a “staggering” total coupled with 24 deaths — representing  that “we are, in fact, experiencing the worst of a surge at the moment,” said county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer.

In effect, one of every five people getting tested in the county is testing positive.

The number of people hospitalized with COVD-19-related illnesses jumped again on Thursday, to 1,365, an increase of 114 from the previous day; 214 of those patients are in intensive-care units, according to the state’s dashboard.

On Wednesday, the county posted an unnerving 16,510 new COVID-19 cases, one of the highest daily totals of the pandemic and up nearly 75% from Tuesday.

The increase in daily cases and virus-related hospitalizations is being closely watched by public health officials concerned that hospitals — which expanded capacity to handle COVID patient numbers that topped 8,000 last January — are less equipped to cope with such an intense surge this winter due to various factors, most notably a drop in staffing.

L.A. County has seen a more than 30% jump in hospitalizations over the past week. One month ago, on Nov. 27, the state reported just 568 virus patients in the county.

The rapid spread of the virus is being blamed on the Omicron variant of the virus, which experts say is easily spread from person to person. Health officials said Omicron is believed to be responsible for 59% of all U.S. COVID infections, out-pacing the previous Delta variant, which now accounts for 41%.

“As cases continue to rise, it is important that we all use the tools available to help us curb the spread,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday in a statement. “As we get ready to welcome the new year, this includes re-thinking party plans, limiting time indoors with non-household members, and isolating from others if feeling sick. And always wear a medical grade mask when in close contact with others outside your household.

“With increasing evidence that vaccinated, and where eligible, boosted individuals have significant protection against severe COVID illness, the best way to limit heartache during one of the worst COVID surges, is to get vaccinated and boosted as quickly as possible,” she said.

“In the near term, we are expecting to continue to see increases in COVID activity in this current surge likely through the middle to end of January,” said Dr. Nancy Gin, regional medical director of quality with Kaiser Permanente.

“As more people get their boosters, we should see less demand on the hospital system for care, though people can still get mild forms of the infection.” Gin said that she thinks a potential period of calm over the Spring and Summer is possible — and if that were to happen, it would be an opportunity to complete vaccinations for people who haven’t received any doses or a booster, she added.

“We need to do that because we know there will be other variants that come around. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when because that’s what viruses do – they mutate,” Gin said. “But the more we are vaccinated, the less impact the virus will have.”

The county Department of Public Health urged residents “to scale down New Year’s plans by limiting gatherings to a very small number of people where everyone is fully vaccinated and boosted if eligible.” That agency added in a statement, “Large, crowded events are just too risky this holiday.”

The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus also continued a disturbing climb on Wednesday, reaching 17.6%. That’s up from about 3% a week ago and less than 1% a month ago.

During the week that ended Dec. 18, 54% of all COVID specimens that underwent genetic testing in the county were Omicron variants, according to the Department of Public Health.

Even people fully vaccinated are susceptible to Omicron infection, although health officials say they are far less likely to become severely ill, wind up hospitalized or die. Ferrer said last week unvaccinated people are 21 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.

Officials have said about 90% of the COVID deaths during the pandemic occurred in people who had underlying health conditions. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

The health department announced Friday that it was expanding access to free COVID testing amid greater demand around the holidays.

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