With the omicron variant driving the explosive winter surge into the new year, Los Angeles County reported 23,553 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, Jan. 1, and another 21,000 on Sunday.
The new burst in the caseload raised the county’s total to 1,741,292 since the pandemic began and four more fatalities — two each day — pushed the death toll to 27,640 deaths. The department did not provide a COVID update Saturday because of the holiday.
The statistics proved alarmingly high number in light of the typical delays in weekend reporting.
The county’s coronavirus hospitalizations continued to rise on Sunday, jumping by more than 150 for the second consecutive day.
The number of COVID patients in county hospitals rose to 1,792, up from 1,628 on Saturday, according to the latest state figures. Of those patients, 263 were in intensive care, up from 246 the previous day.
Those numbers came two days after local health officials closed out 2021 by reporting a record daily number of coronavirus cases, with a whopping 27,091 new infections along with 12 additional deaths associated with the virus.
Also, another wave of COVID-propelled flight cancellations hit Southern California airports Sunday, with 207 flights canceled at LAX due to COVID-19 and weather issues.
The airport experienced 208 cancellations on New Year’s Day.
Orange County’s John Wayne Airport reported 10 canceled flights Sunday, with nine at Long Beach Airport and seven at Hollywood/Burbank Airport. No cancellations were listed for Ontario International Airport.
The problems are a continuation from last week, when thousands of flights were canceled worldwide on daily basis. On Sunday, the tracking site FlightAware.com listed 3,994 canceled flights around the world, 2,374 of which involved flights into or out of the United States.
The scrapped flights are largely blamed on airline staffing shortages caused by the latest surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant. Weather issues were also causing some of the cancellations.
“Our hearts remain with those families experiencing the sorrow of losing those they love to COVID,” said Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer. “We hope that by working together to implement essential public health safety measures, we can stay safe, protect those we love, and keep our schools and businesses open. During this surge, given the spread of a more infectious strain of the virus, lapses can lead to explosive transmission.”
Ferrer added: “Well-fitting and high-quality masks are an essential layer of protection when people are in close contact with others, especially when indoors or in outdoor crowded spaces where distancing is not possible. Although masks can be annoying and even uncomfortable for some, given that many infected individuals are spreading COVID 1 -2 days before they are symptomatic, the physical barrier tendered by a mask is known to reduce the spread of virus particles.”
The daily test positivity rate was 21.8% as of Sunday. Last month, the rate was less than 1%.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she respected Rose Parade organizers for going ahead with the annual event as scheduled 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 large events such as this.
“This might be the year for some people to be watching this on TV,” she said.
Evidence suggests that only those who have recently completed their vaccination series or are boosted have significant protection from becoming infected with the highly contagious Omicron variant, according to Public Health officials.
“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,” Ferrer said in a statement.
“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. 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.
“And 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. This includes wearing tight-fitting and high-quality masks when around others and limiting nonessential activities,” Ferrer said.
During an online briefing on Thursday, Ferrer said, “We are, in fact, experiencing the worst of the surge at the moment with the rising number of cases.”
She said that while circulation of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to more fully vaccinated people getting infected, hospitalizations continue to be affecting primarily unvaccinated people. 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.
“Vaccination continues to be highly protective against hospitalization,” she said.
She 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.
“Deaths fortunately remain low and they haven’t changed, but this is because we’re only about a week out from when our hospitalizations started rising,” she said.
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 city of Long Beach, which like Pasadena maintains its own health department separate from the county, also issued a statement Thursday warning of a dramatic rise in COVID infections. According to the city, average daily cases in Long Beach jumped by 1,234% during the month of December.
“While cases are rising in Long Beach, the good news is that hospitalizations are not increasing as quickly as they were last January,” city Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a statement. “This is a testament to the fact that vaccinations and boosters are proving effective at preventing severe disease. Please get vaccinated if you haven’t already, and get boosted if you’re eligible. Regardless of whether you’re vaccinated or not, it is important to get tested if you are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, which can be as mild as a cold or allergies.”
Long Beach’s Billie Jean King Main Library was closed on Thursday due to a “known COVID-19 exposure.” Library officials said the affected areas are being cleaned, and the library is scheduled to reopen Tuesday.