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COVID-19 crisis improves in Northern California, but LA County braces for more

Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money, Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

While the number of cases can be skewed by how many people are being tested, and when those results are being reported, he said Tuesday that "hospital numbers don't lie."

"People come to the hospital, they get the care that they need when they need it because they're that sick," he said during a briefing. "And so, to see a reduction in our hospital numbers in the last week to 10 days, in terms of the rate of rise, I think is a very encouraging sign. But we're not out of the woods. We know that there's still a lot of COVID in our communities, that people can easily transmit it."

That's also not to say a decline is imminent, Ghaly said: "We are preparing and anticipate that some increase in hospitalizations will come in the middle of the month."

"We're just hopeful it's not as significant as we expected and, certainly, not as significant as it would have been had we not seen these reductions in transmission, in part because of that regional stay-at-home order," he said, referring to the additional restrictions on businesses and activities imposed on specified swaths of the state when the available capacity in their ICUs falls below 15%.

California on Tuesday posted high single-day counts for coronavirus cases and deaths — well above the daily average. A daily survey conducted by The Times found 53,260 coronavirus cases — the sixth-highest single day tally — and 678 deaths reported Tuesday. The death tally was the second-highest of any single day in the pandemic, eclipsed only by the count on Friday, when 685 fatalities were recorded.

Tuesday marked the first time that California surpassed the milestone of recording an average of more than 500 COVID-19 deaths a day over a weekly period. A Times analysis found that California is now averaging 520 deaths a day — roughly equivalent to a Californian dying every three minutes.

In Southern California, officials warn the worst may still be ahead. Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley were still at 0% available ICU capacity as of Tuesday.

Besides Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire has been battered by the surge, with hospitals overflowing with patients. Even coastal counties to the northwest — San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Santa Barbara — have seen alarming increases in cases over the last week.

L.A. County has recorded a cumulative total of 947,035 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, and 12,706 cumulative COVID-19 deaths. That's more than 40% of the 31,000 cumulative COVID-19 deaths in California, even though L.A. County makes up about one-quarter of the state's population.


More than 2,300 people countywide have died from COVID-19 since New Year's Day, and L.A. County has averaged about 231 COVID-19 deaths daily over the last week, a rate higher than at any other point during the pandemic.

Though the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized countywide has stabilized, at just shy of 8,000, the sustained increase has forced some county hospitals to set up beds in hallways and even in gift shops and keep some patients waiting in ambulances for as many as 17 hours before room in the emergency room opens up.

Hospital morgues are so overcrowded in L.A. County that the National Guard has been helping county workers store bodies at the coroner's office, where refrigerated containers have been brought in to quadruple capacity, until funeral homes and mortuaries can accommodate the backlog. Some hospitals have had to declare internal disasters and temporarily shut their doors to all incoming ambulances because of staffing problems or dysfunctional oxygen supply systems, essential for COVID-19 patients gasping for air.

L.A. is seeing "signs of this deadly surge continuing, even though the numbers of hospitalized patients across the county have stabilized for now," said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the L.A. County health services director, on Monday.

"We're watching the data very carefully over the next couple of days, as this is the time when we would anticipate beginning to see the surge in patients from the recent Christmas and New Year's holidays," she said.


(Lin and Dolan reported from San Francisco, Money from Long Beach. Times staff writers Sandhya Kambhampati, Swetha Kannan, Ryan Menezes and Andrea Roberson contributed to this report.)

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