Los Angeles County on Monday reported more than 31,500 new coronavirus cases — nearly a 10-fold increase from the number of new cases a month ago and a stark reminder of the continued power of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Officials on Monday announced 31,576 new cases, as well as 27 related deaths, compared to 3,360 new cases reported on Dec. 17. Monday’s numbers, officials warned, could be too low due to delays in reporting over the weekend and bank holidays.
“On this national holiday celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Celebrating Martin Luther King, we remember his deep commitment to health equity,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “As Reverend King memorably said, ‘Of all forms of inequality, health injustice is the most shocking and inhumane, often resulting in physical death.'”
And that tragic reality, Ferrer said, has played out over and over again during the pandemic.
In LA County, as in nearly every corner of the nation, Blacks and Latinos have been hospitalized and dying with disproportionately high rates of complications from COVID-19 — an inequality, Ferrer said, that points to “the impact of racism, historic divestment, and social.” exclusion.”
“Although these conditions arose before the pandemic, without conscious collective action to address the root causes of health inequalities, we are unlikely to close the gaps that we have documented for two long years,” Ferrer said.
The daily positivity rate in LA County is now above 16% — up from 2% a month ago — and the number of Angelenos hospitalized with the virus has risen to more than 4,560 from about 770 a month ago.
While daily death numbers in the area are well below last winter’s peak, LA County has recorded an average of 40 COVID deaths per day for the past few days, the highest death rate in nearly 10 months. Health experts believe many of the recent deaths are linked to the earlier Delta variant, noting that in some cases patients have been ill and hospitalized for quite some time.
More than 28,000 residents in the county have died since the pandemic began.
Although highly infectious, the currently predominant omicron variant is less likely to infect the lungs – often a critical factor in a patient’s demise. And South Africa, where scientists first discovered omicron in November, has emerged from this surge with comparatively few deaths.
However, some health officials have cautioned against assuming the pattern will apply in the US, which has an older population and could experience a more deadly omicron wave.
“We have this perhaps skewed view of how mild or mild Omicron is when clearly it can kill and hospitalize a lot of people,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, during a recent online discussion.
In recent days, healthcare facilities across the country have started to buckle again amid rising infection rates.
Infections and deaths in nursing homes are rising nationwide, and federal data shows that children under the age of 5 — the age group still ineligible for COVID vaccinations — are more likely to be newly hospitalized with COVID-19 than they were when the pandemic began. The current surge in infections has also led to staffing crises at California hospitals and others across the country. At Tufts Medical Center in Boston, for example, 616 employees recently called in sick with COVID-19.
Last week, some local hospitals temporarily postponed scheduled surgeries that require an inpatient stay after surgery, and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s trauma center was closed for hours due to a lack of blood — a step it hadn’t taken in over three decades. A staff shortage at some local ambulance companies further complicated the situation.
Public health experts across California — where 68% of people are fully vaccinated — continue to urge anyone who is eligible and has not yet been vaccinated or boosted to do so as soon as possible. Experts say that despite some groundbreaking cases, fueled largely by Omicron, vaccination still offers strong protection against serious diseases.