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LA County Officials Warn Of An Overwhelmed Healthcare System If COVID-19 Restrictions Aren't Followed

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) -- Los Angeles County hit another COVID-19 hospitalization record on Monday, which officials said is contributing to a spike in healthcare worker infections that is putting staffing pressure on medical centers already struggling to manage the spike in patients.

As of Monday, 2,988 people are hospitalized for the virus, and 24% of those patients are in the ICU.

Officials said the situation will likely worsen in the next few weeks, as those numbers are expected to keep growing in response to the overwhelming rise in cases.

County health chief Dr. Barbara Ferrer said there is still a way to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, and she urged residents to commit to following local health orders.

"We don't want to get there and we don't have to get there,'' she said during an online briefing. "I think right now the issue is we're not there. While we know we're going to see significant increases for the next two to three weeks, it can turn itself around at the moment we all start getting back into the game. And we don't have to actually just say, `This is inevitable, we are going to see an overwhelmed health care system.'

"We don't have an overwhelmed health care system today. We have time, but very little, to get ourselves to a place where that will not be the case in L.A. County, but it would take every single one of us working hard together to get that to happen,'' she said.

On Monday, the county also reported another 8,086 new COVID-19 cases. Long Beach reported 295 and Pasadena added another 80.

The county also announced another 27 deaths, raising the death toll to 7,936.

The county's recent rate of people testing positive for the virus was 11.6% on Monday, up from 5% from a month ago.

This week, the state imposed a regional stay-at-home order on Southern California, barring nearly all public gatherings and limiting capacity in the retail and grocery stores that are allowed to remain open.

Ferrer said that ICU beds are still available in the county, but she stressed once again that this is not the main problem. L.A. County is facing a staffing problem and may not have enough trained medical professionals to treat the patients, she said.

The increasing number of COVID-19 cases is creating more exposure for healthcare workers. Last week, 1,745 cases were reported among healthcare workers — more than double the number from the week prior.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that, by the end of the year, around two million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be available in California — and healthcare workers will be at the top of the list to receive it.

"The story of the pandemic is a story of shortages," said Carmela Coyle, leader of the California Hospital Association. "At least for the moment, shortages of vaccines...we think perhaps late into next year before we really see widespread vaccination of the general public."

The first doses would cover half of the state's 2.4 million healthcare workers. It's welcomed news as ICU capacity continues to plummet statewide.

"It's not just about beds and mattresses and pillows," Coyle said. "The limiting factor — the most important factor here in caring for people who have the COVID-19 disease — are the nurses, the staff. That's what's short, and that's what's different this time around from the summer surge."

Ferrer said that the best way to protect hospitals is to reduce the rate of transmission — which involves adhering strictly to health restrictions, like wearing a mask, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings with people from other households.

"It does appear that the warnings of a surge in cases in late October and early November had limited impact on people's willingness to visit another person's home, with just a slight dip in the week before Thanksgiving,'' Ferrer said.

She said she understands that residents are frustrated, but committing to infection control will help lift the restrictions as soon as possible.

"The new stay at home order gives us an opportunity to place a pause on all nonessential activities that increase the risk of transmitting the virus so we can have a chance at getting the surge under control,'' she said. "The most important action we can take is to stop the surge by staying home as much as possible. Please, as we watch these numbers go up to levels that we've never seen in L.A. County, I do ask everyone to make it their mission to do their part to prevent further transmission of the virus.''

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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