LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County hospitals are once again seeing a marked increase in the number of coronavirus-positive patients requiring their care — triggering new concern that health care systems could once again come under strain unless the region gets its arms around the latest resurgence of the virus.
The case rate in the nation’s largest county is now high enough to land it within the “medium” community level outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reaching this category, the middle on the agency’s three-tier scale, “is concerning, since it could signal that the increases that we’re seeing in our COVID cases could soon put pressure on our health care resources,” said county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
L.A. County is one of 14 California counties within the medium community level, and the first in Southern California. The majority of the others are in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So far, no California counties are in the worst, “high,” community level. Getting to that point would require not only an elevated level of coronavirus transmission, but for hospitals to begin seeing significant effects from COVID-19.
“To avoid moving to the high community level, which signifies very high transmission and stress on the health care system, residents, workers and businesses need to not shy away from reinstating or adhering to safety practices that are known to reduce transmission,” Ferrer told reporters Thursday. “This includes indoor masking, testing when people are sick, exposed or gathering, and staying up to date on vaccinations.”
As of Wednesday, the number of coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized countywide was 379. While still significantly lower than many other points in the pandemic, the census has jumped by 42% just in the last week.
Many of those patients aren’t necessarily hospitalized for COVID-19, though. Earlier this week, county Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said most of those who were are hospitalized with a positive coronavirus test within the Department of Health Services’ hospitals were there for some other reason — such as a heart attack or stroke — and happened to incidentally test positive upon admission.
However, an increase in hospitalizations, Ferrer said, is “an important reminder that getting infected with COVID-19 does pose a serious risk. Our hope is that as more people take advantage of the protection that continues to be offered by vaccines and boosters, the daily deaths will continue to remain low.”
Officials have long noted that the pandemic has plotted a predictable, if painful, path — with increases in new infections triggering corresponding rises in hospitalizations a few weeks later, and in deaths a few weeks after that.
However, the typical connection between cases and hospitalizations has been more muted this time around. Although cases have been climbing steadily for weeks, hospitalizations have until just recently remained at some of the lowest levels ever recorded.
But unless the trendline reverses, officials say it’s likely just a mathematical reality that hospitals will have to care for more patients.
In L.A. County, officials have reported an average of more than 3,300 new cases per day over the last week — a level not seen since late February, when the region was still on the downslope of last winter’s omicron surge.
The county’s weekly case rate has now climbed to 202 per 100,000 residents, high enough to clear the bar of 200 the CDC has set for the medium community level.
“The task in front of us is similar to work we’ve had to do at other points over the past 21/2 years: Slowing transmission,” Ferrer said. “We know what works — masking, testing and vaccination, along with some systems and policies that support the use of these and other effect safety measures.
“If each of us takes advantage of the good access we have to these effective resources, I’m hopeful that we can slow transmission again, prevent strain on our health care system and protect each other.”©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.