LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — As 2021 comes to an end, the last day of the year has brought the highest number of reported cases in Los Angeles County throughout the entire pandemic, which has spanned for the greater part of two years now.
A record-breaking number of positive COVID-19 cases were reported by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Friday, with 27,091 new cases and 12 additional deaths. There are also nearly 1,500 patients (1,464) occupying hospitals across Los Angeles County, up 99 from Thursday's number.
The positivity rate, 22.4%, for those being tested jumped an astounding 21% over recent weeks, from November's 1% rate.
On December 15, the reported cases totaled just 1,850. Experts expected the jump in numbers, with the winter weather and holiday season increasing exposure for millions across the country.
In response to the rapidly climbing numbers, Barbara Ferrer, County Public Health Director indicated that, "The risk of virus transmission has never been higher in our county. ... The days ahead will be extraordinarily challenging for all us as we face extraordinarily high case numbers reflecting widespread transmission of the virus. In order to make sure that people are able to work and attend school, we all need to act responsibly."
Ferrer urged people to avoid large gatherings, especially those with underlying conditions or with high risk of transmission.
Health officials point to the new Omicron variant as the leading cause in the sudden increase in positive cases, reminding the public that while less virulent, the virus is still present with all of it's symptoms, including the risk for heart complications.
She reminded of the necessity of vaccination in the face of the pandemic, noting that the majority of patients occupying hospitals are unvaccinated, and that those who have finished their vaccination series and/or got their booster shots have significant protection from the virus, and both the Omicron and Delta variant, which is still present - totaling 41% of cases in LA County.
Preliminary data shows that while less-transmissible, Delta is more dangerous than Omicron, especially among the unvaccinated.
According to county figures, of the more than 6.3 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 127,172 have tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 2%, while 3,094 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.05%. A total of 602 fully vaccinated people have died, for a rate of 0.01%.
Doctor Michael Daignault, an emergency room surgeon at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center was among the first health experts to indicate the one-two punch being dealt by both variants, "I think what we're seeing is some surging Delta, that's contributing to the hospitalizations." "
However, he does predict some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, at least in regards to the winter surge, "This virus has been nothing but unpredictable, but we're looking at possibly mid-January where we'll see a peak, and just as quickly as this virus has caused an exponential number of cases, we should see a quick decline. But that means for the rest of January, it's going to be tough."
The continuing surge in numbers, part of the fifth surge of the Coronavirus pandemic, has experts worried about the state of hospital and other healthcare facilities, many of which are at risk of becoming over-burdened once again.
"With explosive transmission likely to continue for some weeks to come, all efforts now need to focus on protecting our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. Since most people in our hospitals with serious illness from COVID are unvaccinated, those not yet vaccinated or boosted need to please stay away from others as much as possible to avoid getting infected or infecting others," she said, "And while vaccines and boosters continue to offer excellent protection against severe illness and death, those most vulnerable to serious consequences should they become infected (including children under 5 not yet able to get vaccinated) need to be surrounded by additional layers of protection. This includes wearing tight-fitting and high-quality masks when around others and limiting nonessential activities.''
While death totals remain relatively low, Ferrer disclosed that these numbers may experience a similar increase, as hospitalization numbers began to increase just about a week ago.
With the New Year looming, many Los Angeles residents were a little dejected about their New Year's Eve plans, instead settling for a COVID-19 test at one of the many crowded outlets around the county, especially with take-home tests flying off the shelves at an outstanding pace.
Some visitors from Illinois, like Celeste Ramos and Dulce Torres, were in town for a get-together with friends, they still waited in the lines at the 9-1-1 COVID Testing Center under the Shore Hotel in Santa Monica as a precaution, putting the safety of their friends first. "We have a small gathering with some friends. So all of our friends are getting tested," said Ramos.
Torres had feelings of déjà vu, "It's scary. It feels like we're going back to the beginning."
Steve Farzam, owner of the 911 COVID Testing Center isn't exactly pleased with the sudden increase in business, "We're now unfortunately heading towards the 30% mark of the positivity rate, which is just mind-blowing - and very concerning. Half of the people that are testing positive have no symptoms."
He said that the boom in test takers has nearly depleted his stock of tests, and he's even had to hire extra security to handle the rising tension in customers waiting in line for extended amounts of time.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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