LA County reports 37,215 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 30 new deaths – Long Beach Press Telegram

The pandemic’s second winter surge continued its seemingly unimpeded ascent on Thursday, Jan. 6.

Coronavirus infections skyrocketed once again, hitting an all-time high in Los Angeles County, more events were canceled, postponed or moved online, and public health officials expressed concern about the hospital system becoming further strained — though they were also sanguine about the final weeks of COVID-19’s second year.

Nothing underscored that confidence more than a declaration from the county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, on Thursday: The Super Bowl will happen here.

“I do think we’re working closely with both the NFL and SoFi Stadium to have a wonderful Super Bowl here with the appropriate safety precautions that will keep fans safe and our community safe,” Ferrer said during a media videoconference Thursday afternoon. “I feel really confident the event will happen here in L.A.”

The rest of her statement, however, belied that confidence.

“We’ll work really closely to enhance safety,” she said, “if, again, we’re still in the middle of a horrific surge.”

And by multiple metrics, the surge is, indeed horrific. Officials reported 37,215 new cases countywide on Thursday — a nearly 40% increase in one day. Health officials also confirmed 30 additional deaths, and an increase in daily hospitalizations to 2,661 from 2,240 the day before. The county’s positivity rate, as of Thursday, was 21.9% after being below 1% a month ago.

To date, the total number of deaths in L.A. County is 27,728.

Public Health has identified 1,843,922 COVID-19 cases across all areas of LA County since the pandemic began.

But one reason for optimism, Ferrer said, is that this surge — driven by the now-dominant omicron variant — is different from previous ones.

“Unlike last winter’s surge, when overall hospital census increased pretty significantly, and we also saw that over the summer surge,” Ferrer said, “now with the current surge, the hospital census has remained much more stable.”

The percentage of patients infected with COVID-19 in intensive-care units, she said, has increased only slightly, from 5% to 7%, while during last year’s winter surge, more than half of the ICU beds countywide were occupied by people with COVID-19.

“It’s encouraging to see that fewer people were hospitalized for COVID-related illness during this surge,” Ferrer said, “especially compared to prior surges.”

COVID-19 patients, however, also put a substantial strain on the health care system, Ferrer said.

“People who test positive for COVID require resources, intensive transmission-based precautions, including isolation rooms, staff and personal protective equipment,” she said, “all of which add a particularly high burden when so many of our hospitals” have staffing shortages.

Officials, in fact, urged residents Thursday to avoid calling 911 or going to the emergency room to get tested as hospitals have been severely understaffed amid a raging wave of infections.

Public safety agencies and ambulance companies have also struggled to cope with their own shortages. The Los Angeles County Fire Department has even resorted to transporting some patients in fire trucks rather than ambulances.

Access to testing overall, meanwhile, has been strained following the holidays, with residents waiting for hours to get tested.

On Wednesday, a county program that offers free home testing kits was been put on hold because of a current backlog.

And the county has only received a portion of the 1.4 million at-home testing kits Gov. Gavin Newsom promised for schoolchildren, the Los Angeles County Office of Education said in a Thursday statement.

The kits that have arrived from the state Department of Public Health have been distributed, the education office said, adding that they have not been given a date for when the remaining kits are expected to arrive.”

The county is expected to launch another self-testing program Friday, Jan. 7, Ferrer said, allowing residents to pick up and drop off their test kits at designated locations.

Ferrer urged residents who experience COIVD-19 symptoms to seek other opportunities to get tested if they haven’t received their home test kits.

The omicron variant, officials said, accounted for more than 85% of cases, surpassing delta as the dominant strain.

But early evidence suggests omicron doesn’t cause symptoms as severe as other variants. But it does spread easily — apparent by the way it has radiated through Los Angeles County.

The rapid spread has caused multiple events to be postponed, canceled or altered.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, for example, announced on Thursday that next week’s State of the City Speech would go virtual for the second consecutive year.

And the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has canceled previously announced pop-up events that were meant to enroll low-income transit riders into its discounted fare program before bus fare collection resumes next week.

But the Super Bowl — set for Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood — remains a go, for now.

“My hope is that by the time we get to February,” Ferrer said, “we’re on the downside of seeing this massive amount of community transmission.”

And Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell offered the best way to avoid fumbling that opportunity:

“My plea is to all of those — local and those who will travel to Inglewood to SoFi Stadium for the Super Bowl — that you follow our health orders and that you mask,” she said Thursday. “I would encourage people to get vaccinated and boosted before you come.”

Vaccines and boosters are still effective at warding off hospitalization, health officials said.

Among nearly 6,425,000 fully vaccinated people, about 3% tested positive, 0,05% have been hospitalized and 0,01% died, according to health officials.

“We shouldn’t assume,” Mitchell said, “that individual decisions don’t have the greatest impact in the spread of this virus.”

City News Service, and staff writers Harry Saltzgaver and Linh Tat contributed to this report.