County expands COVID testing as surge continues

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals continues to rise, reaching a level Jan. 17 nearly six times higher than the number just one month ago according to recently released data.

Another 27 virus-related deaths were also reported, lifting the county’s overall death toll from throughout the pandemic to 28,086. The county reported nearly 120 deaths last weekend.

The county Department of Public Health confirmed another 31,576 new COVID infections, a number that is likely low due to delays in weekend reporting by testing labs. To date, the county has confirmed 2,289,045 cases since the pandemic began.

According to state figures, there were 4,564 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Jan. 17, with 621 of those in intensive care.

A month ago, there were just 772 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals. The rapid rise has been attributed to the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.

If there’s any positive sign that the current surge might soon ebb, it is in the average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus. That percentage has been falling slightly over the past week, reaching 16.5% Jan. 17. The rate was more than 20% a week ago.

Health officials noted, however, that even at 16.5%, the rate is still eight times higher than the 2% testing-positivity rate one month ago.

In releasing the latest COVID numbers, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer recognized the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the continuing disparity in virus infections and death among communities of color.

“As Reverend King memorably said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death,’” Ferrer said in a statement. “Tragically, we have seen this play out in real life and very clearly over the past two years with the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color. From the onset of the pandemic, communities of color have experienced the greatest devastation from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation.

“As we continue to implement strategies — enforcing worker protections through our health officer orders, providing resources needed by many to survive the impact of the pandemic, funding community-based organizations in hard hit areas to serve as trusted public health messengers, and increasing vaccination access in under-sourced neighborhoods — we also need to come together to address the impact that racism, historical disinvestment, and social marginalization have on COVID-19 outcomes,” she said.

“While these conditions predate the pandemic, without deliberate collective actions to address the root causes of health inequities, we are unlikely to close the gaps we have documented for two long years.”

Health officials have been raising concerns about the current surge in cases impacting a hospital system already strained by staffing shortages — which have been further exacerbated by COVID infections among health care professionals, preventing them from coming to work.

They continue to urge people to avoid going to an emergency room unless absolutely necessary, and called on them to not visit a hospital ER to get tested for COVID.

Ferrer also has urged residents to avoid dangerous activities in the coming weeks, particularly those that are indoors and involve mingling with unvaccinated or higher-risk people. She also stressed that while the Omicron variant is easily capable of infecting vaccinated people, vaccinations are still proving to be effective in preventing infected people from winding up hospitalized.

She called on residents to get vaccinated and obtain booster shots; wear upgraded masks such as N95, KN95 or KF94 varieties; and get tested, saying the county dramatically expanded testing availability after shortages two weeks ago that led to long lines at some test centers.


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