LOS ANGELES, CA — With coronavirus hospitalizations in Los Angeles nearly double that of a month ago, infections are also increasing among health care workers. About half of all the county's hospitals are reporting staffing shortages.
Among the worrying trends of the Omicron-fueled surge in cases nationwide, are skyrocketing pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations. New York, which began it's winter surge well before California, reported a 395 percent increase in pediatric coronavirus hospitalizations over the last three weeks. It's a trend that has officials in California on edge because of similarly low vaccination rates among children here.
“Unfortunately NY is seeing an increase in pediatric hospitalizations (primarily amongst the unvaccinated), and they have similar [5- to 11-year-old] vaccination rates,” tweeted Dr. Erica Pan, California state epidemiologist. “Please give your children the gift of vaccine protection as soon as possible as our cases are increasing rapidly.”
Overall, Los Angeles County hospitalizations — 966 as of Monday — are still lagging behind the daily case rate, and authorities expect to see the hospitalization and death toll climbing in the days to come. The Omicron variant continues to fuel rising infection numbers in the Southland.
The rise has shadowed a dramatic increase in daily COVID case numbers, which surpassed 11,000 on Saturday. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned last week that if infections continue such a dramatic rise, the daily case number could top 20,000 by the new year. That would put LA County at its highest level of the pandemic. She also said data show that unvaccinated people are 21 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.
Two-hundred of the county's hospitalized patients were being treated in intensive care, up from 188 a day earlier.
The hospital number has been on a steady climb over the past several weeks, far surpassing the roughly 550 patients reported in late November.
Los Angeles County reported 7,425 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths on Monday, with the numbers artificially low due to standard reporting delays from the weekend. The county has logged 1,623,442 cases of COVID-19 and 27,555 fatalities associated with the virus since the pandemic began.
Officials have said about 90% of the deaths occurred in people who had underlying health conditions. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Of the nine deaths reported Monday, six had underlying conditions.
Fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose to 12.4% as of Monday, more than triple the county's rate from a week ago, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
As COVID hospitalizations rise, the county on Monday reported that infections are increasing among health care workers, despite their generally high rate of vaccination. During the week ending Dec. 18, a total of 292 cases were identified among health care workers in the county, up 26% from the previous week, according to the county. Nearly half -- 46% -- of hospitals in the county are reporting staffing shortages, compared with 20% at the beginning of last year's winter surge.
Ferrer said in a statement that vaccination rates among health care workers are high, but they are now being mandated -- under a state order -- to receive booster shots by Feb. 1.
"Keeping healthcare workers safe is critical to maintaining functionality across our health care facilities when surges lead to rising rates of hospitalizations," Ferrer said. "Across multiple health care settings, our health care personnel have given their all and been fully vaccinated at high levels for many months. However, the threat of rising cases and concerning hospital staffing shortages require us to act quickly to ensure that in the face of the high transmissible Omicron variant, our essential workforce has an important added layer of protection."
Ferrer said last week the county is not immediately considering a return to lockdown or other severe restrictions on public activity, but it will depend on the actions residents take to slow spread of the virus.
"I've always been transparent and honest that with a variant such as Omicron and potentially other variants that could happen in the future, every single option has to be on the table," she said. "Every single tool we have has to be available for us to protect people's lives and livelihood and ... avoid overwhelming the hospital system.
"... I think if we can all do this, all of us, every single person, commit to celebrating with as much safety as possible, which may mean you're changing up some of your plans, we're going to be OK," she said.
Ferrer has credited COVID vaccines for preventing infected people from becoming seriously ill and creating a burden on health care workers similar to last winter's surge, which saw thousands of COVID patients in county hospitals. But deaths and hospitalizations are considered trailing indicators, so those numbers could still be in for a substantial spike in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the health department said Friday that it was expanding access to free COVID testing amid greater demand around the holidays.
"Demand for COVID-19 testing is steadily increasing as county residents rush to get tested before gathering with loved ones and as a direct result of LA County's surge in new cases," officials said.
Effective Friday, the changes include:
Extended hours of operation at sites across Los Angeles County;
Additional week and weekend dates;
Additional mobile testing units in hard-hit areas;
Re-launch of Holiday Home Test Collection Program with new guidelines to reach more people and make it easier to get tested. The link is at https://covid19.lacounty.gov/hometest.
Any county resident who is symptomatic or believes they were exposed to COVID-19 can order a home testing kit, which require swab collection to be mailed back for PCR test result.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.