With coronavirus cases almost doubling in just two days, Los Angeles County reported 27,091 new cases on the final day of a COVID-19-blasted 2021. The caseload eclipsed the county’s daily record — and was accompanied by 12 new deaths.
With New Year’s Eve celebrations mere hours away, public health officials on Friday, Dec. 31, urged residents to minimize the risk of transmitting the mega-transmissible omicron variant by not hosting or attending large gatherings — especially indoors — over the holiday weekend.
Friday’s daily positivity rate ticked up nearly a full point overnight to 22.4%. Last month, the rate was less than 1%.
The dramatic surge in virus transmission is continuing to drive up hospitalization numbers and raise fears that a higher death count will soon follow. Evidence indicates that the variant may be less virulent than its predecessors, but healthcare officials fear a mammoth wave of new patients that could swamp their already COVID-battered teams.
Hospitalizations increased by another 99 patients on Friday, according to the state’s dashboard, to 1,464 — with 218 of them in intensive-care units.
The new cases lifted the county’s overall total since the pandemic began to 1,696,582, with the death toll climbing to 27,637.
More than 10,043,000 individuals have been tested since the pandemic began, with 15% having now tested positive. To date, 1,696,582 positive cases have been confirmed, while Friday’s 12 new deaths bring the cumulative figure to 27,637 fatalities.
“The days ahead will be extraordinarily challenging for all us as we face extraordinarily high case numbers reflecting widespread transmission of the virus. In order to make sure that people are able to work and attend school, we all need to act responsibly,” said county Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer on Friday.
Ferrer said that while circulation of the swift-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to more fully vaccinated people getting infected, hospitalizations continue to be affecting primarily unvaccinated people. Earlier this week, she said the hospitalization rate for unvaccinated people is 28 per 100,000 residents, while the rate for the vaccinated has remained relatively flat at 1 per 100,000.
“With explosive transmission likely to continue for some weeks to come, all efforts now need to focus on protecting our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed,” she added. “Since most people in our hospitals with serious illness from COVID are unvaccinated, those not yet vaccinated or boosted need to please stay away from others as much as possible to avoid getting infected or infecting others.”
Ferrer said statistics show unvaccinated people are 14 times more likely to die from the virus than the vaccinated. She also noted that overall, death rates of remained relatively flat in the county, despite the dramatic surge in infections, but she said that could change.
“While vaccines and boosters continue to offer excellent protection against severe illness and death, those most vulnerable to serious consequences should they become infected (including children under 5 not yet able to get vaccinated) need to be surrounded by additional layers of protection,” she said. “This includes wearing tight fitting and high-quality masks when around others and limiting non-essential activities.”
Officials have said about 90% of the COVID deaths during the pandemic occurred in people who had underlying health conditions. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. The lowest vaccination rate is among children aged 5-11 — the most recent age group to become eligible for the shots.
According to county figures, of the more than 6.3 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 127,172 have tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 2%, while 3,094 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.05%. A total of 602 fully vaccinated people have died, for a rate of 0.01%.
Overall, 79% of eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 71% are fully vaccinated. Of the county’s overall population of 10.3 million people, 75% have received at least one dose, and 67% are fully vaccinated.
Ferrer urged more people to get vaccinated, and noted there are 2.9 million vaccinated residents in the county who are eligible for booster doses who have not yet received them.
“We urgently need to get more people protected by boosters,” she said.
Ferrer and county Supervisor Holly Mitchell urged residents to be cautious as they celebrate New Year’s Eve, with Ferrer noting, “The risk of virus transmission has never been higher in our county.” She urged people to avoid large gatherings, and gather outside whenever is possible. People who have underlying health conditions or aren’t vaccinated should avoid gatherings altogether, she said.
Ferrer said she respected plans for the Rose Parade to go on as scheduled on Saturday, despite the large crowds it traditionally gathers. But she said people at high risk for virus transmission or for severe illness if they become infected should avoid attending.
“This might be the year for some people to be watching this on TV,” she said.
City News Service contributed to this report