Fueled by the continued surge in COVID-19 cases, available space continued to dwindle today at Los Angeles County hospitals, with health-care professionals imploring the public to take the virus seriously to prevent medical centers from being overrun and unable to care for patients.
"We're getting crushed. I'm not going to sugarcoat this. We are getting crushed," said Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. "For most of the days of the last week, we've had zero ICU beds open in the morning, and we have had to scramble."
His comments came amid a surge of cases that has exploded across the county since November, exacerbated by the Thanksgiving holiday and accompanying gatherings that occurred in spite of warnings against them.
Dr. Christina Ghaly said that as of this morning, there were 699 total available hospital beds in Los Angeles County -- with a population of 10 million people -- and just 69 ICU beds. That's down from Thursday's figures of 716 overall beds and 92 ICU beds. Ghaly noted that the figures represent a "snapshot in time" from a daily morning poll of the county's 70 "911- receiving" hospitals with emergency rooms, and the numbers can fluctuate dramatically throughout the day.
In recent days, county hospitals have been operating near their overall licensed capacity of about 2,500 ICU beds.
Today, the number of COVID-19 patients in county hospitals topped 5,000 for the first time in the pandemic, reaching a total of 5,100. County officials said 20% of those people, or about 1,020, were in the ICU. According to the county Department of Public Health, the number of people hospitalized due the virus increased by nearly 1,500 since last Friday.
Spellberg noted that the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine is offering hope for health care workers and the public about an eventual end to the pandemic, but that end remains a long way off.
"L.A. County is now moving towards becoming the epicenter of the pandemic," he said. "We are not at the stage yet at which other parts of the world, including in the United States, have suffered catastrophic consequences, but we are heading in that direction. And if we don't stop the spread, our hospitals will be overwhelmed."
The county reported another 96 coronavirus-related deaths today, although seven of those fatalities were confirmed Thursday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. Long Beach health officials announced one additional death Friday. The new fatalities lifted the countywide cumulative death toll from the virus to 8,758.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said average daily deaths from COVID-19 in the county have spiked up 267% since Nov. 9, reaching 44 per day as of last week, and likely even higher this week given the recent rising death figures. Ferrer said that equates to two people in the county dying from COVID- 19 every hour.
Another 16,504 COVID infections were confirmed in the county today, one of the highest daily numbers reported throughout the pandemic. Long Beach health officials reported another 547 cases this afternoon. The new cases lifted the countywide cumulative total to 597,268.
County officials said the local transmission rate for COVID-19 -- the average number of people each COVID-positive person infects with the virus -- is now 1.2, up from 1.16 a week ago. Anytime the rate is above 1, case numbers are projected to grow.
The county also estimates that one of every 80 residents not hospitalized or in quarantine/isolation is infected with the virus, likely without knowing it or showing any symptoms, yet still capable of infecting others.