Exactly two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday gatherings of family and friends, Los Angeles County is seeing a resulting increase in Covid-19 cases, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. She also called the trend a possible start of yet another winter surge of infections.
Ferrer said the increase was visible by December 1, when the county’s 7-day average daily number of new cases topped 1,000 — a 19% increase from the previous week. She also noted a resulting increase in hospitalizations, with the daily number of Covid patients topping 600 for the first time in weeks.
Those trends have continued is subsequent days, with 1,718 new infections recorded today. Last Tuesday the count was 843. That’s a more 100% rise in 10 days. Daily Covid-related hospitalizations continued their rise after breaking the 600 mark on the 1st. Today there were 667 people infected with Covid in L.A. hospitals. The number of infected patients being treated in intensive care was 158, up from 151 a day earlier.
“We do expect increases to continue on the heels of our Thanksgiving gatherings but already, based on trends, we are looking at possible beginnings of a winter surge,” Ferrer said.
She said the county’s current average daily rate of new infections had risen to 13 per 100,000 residents, up 62% from 8 per 100,000 residents just a week ago.
Ferrer said the county’s case increase was also reflected in schools.
“In the week following the Thanksgiving break, cases among students in particular rose to their highest level since late September,” said Ferrer.
“If, as we suspect, this increase in cases reflects transmission that took place during holiday gatherings, we should consider this an early warning about the upcoming December holiday.”
Ferrer said infections among students are likely also due to Thanksgiving gatherings, because transmission at schools remains low thanks to strict infection-control measures on campus, such as regular testing and mandatory mask-wearing.
Still, the health director observed, “Schools will need to work harder than ever to continue to be safe places for students to continue in-person learning.
She acknowledged that with the widespread availability of vaccines and the benefit of more experience preventing and treating infections, the county can be considered “much better off” than last winter. But she insisted, “all increases in cases are worrisome,” especially given the first instance of community transmission of the potentially more infectious Omicron variant in the county.
Also worrisome was that first doses delivered to kids were down to 16,000 last week from 21,000 the week before.
“I don’t want to downplay the fact that we continue to now be back in what the CDC classifies as the tier of ‘high’ transmission,” she said. “We have a lot of community transmission going on. And when you have a lot of community transmission going on and there’s lots and lots of opportunities of people intermingling, you run the risk of these numbers just continuing to grow. And every time they grow and we see more and more cases, we all know it results unfortunately in a higher number of people that will end up in the hospital and tragically pass away.”
Covid vaccines will likely limit the impact of a major winter surge on hospitals and the county’s overall health-care system, Ferrer said, noting that while vaccinated people may get infected, they are less likely to become severely ill and require hospitalization. But she said more people need to get the shots to prevent strain on hospitals.
“We worry about a strain on the hospital system,” Ferrer said, noting lower numbers of nurses now vs. earlier in the pandemic due to exhaustion and attrition. “You can have beds,” she said, “but those beds need to be staffed.” That’s especially true in the ICU.
“There’s a lot we all need to do to slow down transmission and that we’re obviously not all doing,” noted Ferrer, urging vaccinated residents to get booster shots to counter waning immunity from the original shots. She said 5 million people in the county are eligible for booster shots, but only 1.6 million booster doses have been administered.
The county reported another 15 Covid-related deaths on Thursday, raising the pandemic-related death toll to 27,288.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 1.5% as of Thursday. That’s up 36% from 1.1% just over one week ago.
According to the most recent figures, 65% of county residents are fully vaccinated.
While the county Department of Public Health has identified a total of four cases of the Omicron variant — and Long Beach has confirmed one additional case — Ferrer said that Delta remains the dominant strain in the county, accounting for more than 99% of cases that undergo genetic sequencing. She said she expects that to be the case at least “for the next few weeks.”
Ferrer said the county is now conducting genomic sequencing of 25% of all positive cases to identify Covid variants.