L.A. County calls COVID-19 ‘worst disaster’ in decades as virus continues to spin out of control

As the coronavirus continues to spin out of control in Los Angeles County, health officials on Monday warned residents that despite pandemic fatigue now is the time to “stay home as much as possible.”

Currently, 10 county residents are testing positive for COVID-19 every minute, and on average one person is dying from it every eight minutes, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a Monday news conference, calling the coronavirus pandemic “the worst disaster our county has experienced for decades.”

There were 137 additional COVID-19 deaths and 12,617 new cases confirmed Monday, which brings the countywide death toll to 12,387 fatalities and 932,697 total cases. In the last seven days, more than 1,500 people have died.

“We’ve had the tools, the warnings, and the restrictions in place, but it has been insufficient,” Ferrer said. “Because the single biggest factor in all of this comes down to individuals taking appropriate action taking personal steps, we really just need everyone to do the right thing.”

Currently there are 7,910 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment, and 22% are in the intensive care unit. Regional hospitals remain overwhelmed with patients who are battling the virus. Two months ago there was an average of about 790 COVID-19 patients, but more than 8,000 were hospitalized as of Friday, indicative of an 884% increase, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health reported.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, the L.A. County director of health services, said Monday that hospitals are bracing for the surge in patients expected to have been infected as a result of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Because of that, she said everyone should do their part to stay home and follow all COVID-19 safety precautions.

“We want to make sure that whether you have COVID-19 or need some other form of care from a heart attack, or stroke, or traumatic injury or a car accident, that life-saving services at hospitals are there if you need them,” Ghaly said.

Health officials said there are coronavirus outbreaks “everywhere,” including airports, workplaces, stores, schools and fitness classes while reiterating the need to take every precaution.

Ferrer said those who must go out for essential work or appointments should not let their guard down.

“Always wear a mask. Keep your distance from others. Bring your sanitizing wipes with you so you can wipe down your cellphone, your car keys, your workstations, your door handles and anything you’re touching that other people are touching,” she said.

She also encouraged people who leave their homes to go a few steps further by keeping their masks on at home to safeguard people they live with who may be more vulnerable, including older people and those with serious underlying health issues.

“There’s so much transmission right now that we strongly recommend that you keep you face covering on at home if you’re a worker who’s leaving,” Ferrer said. “It will just add a layer of protection while we get through this surge and get our cases and transmission way down.”

Vaccine distributions will play a major role in getting a handle on the coronavirus spread in L.A. County, officials said. Starting next week, Dodger Stadium will be transformed into a mass vaccination site and five additional vaccination sites will also be added. Each site will have the capacity to vaccinate about 4,000 people every day and will be in operation for at least four weeks, officials said.

As of last week, L.A. area hospitals received 220,000 vaccine doses that have since been administered to 160,000 frontline health care workers. Starting Monday the vaccine was being offered to health care workers in all three tiers of Phase 1.

“With this rollout of vaccinations there’s hope for a brighter future; however, we need to make sure everyone survives to benefit from the vaccine,” Ferrer said.

Health officials continue to encourage anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19, has been in close contact to someone with COVID-19 or has been exposed to COVID-19 to get tested. Information on testing sites and appointments can be found at covid19.lacounty.gov.

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