Los Angeles County reported more than 8,000 additional COVID-19 cases and another hospitalization record today, contributing to a spike in health care worker infections that is putting additional staffing pressure on medical centers.
And the situation will likely worsen in coming weeks, with hospitalization numbers expected to continue rising in response to the recent spike in case numbers.
But the county's public health director Barbara Ferrer said there's still a path to preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed -- if residents commit to infection-control measures and public health restrictions.
"While we know we're going to see significant increases for the next two to three weeks, it can turn itself around at the moment we all start getting back into the game," Ferrer said during an online briefing. "And we don't have to actually just say, 'This is inevitable, we are going to see an overwhelmed health care system.'"
Dwindling availability of intensive-care unit beds prompted the state to impose a regional stay-at-home order on the Southern California region, including Los Angeles County, late Sunday night. The order bars virtually all public gatherings, limits capacity to 20% at retail stores and 35% at stand-alone grocery stores, and forces the closure of personal care businesses such as barbershops and nail salons.
Ferrer said there are still ICU beds available in the county, although capacity varies from hospital to hospital. She again stressed that the availability of physical beds is not the main problem, it's the availability of trained medical professionals to treat patients in those beds.
But the increasing number of COVID-19 patients is creating more exposure to health care workers. Ferrer said 1,745 infections were reported last week among health care workers in the county, more than double the number confirmed the prior week.
Those infections mean fewer medical workers available to staff beds, exacerbating hospital space issues.
Ferrer said the only way to protect hospitals is to get the rate of virus transmission down. Unfortunately, an ongoing USC-led survey of residents has found that people are not adhering to restrictions on gatherings. In fact, the survey found the percent of people who say they've visited other people's homes or had visitors in their own home has continued to climb.
"It does appear that the warnings of a surge in cases in late October and early November had limited impact on people's willingness to visit another person's home, with just a slight dip in the week before Thanksgiving," Ferrer said.
The county today reported another 8,086 new COVID-19 infections, lifting the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 457,880. The county also announced another 27 deaths, raising the death toll to 7,936.
The number of people hospitalized was 2,988, with 24% of those people in the ICU.
The county's recent rate of people testing positive for the virus was 11.6% today, up from 5% from a month ago.
The region's available ICU capacity was 10.9% as of Sunday night.