LOS ANGELES - With the bulk of new COVID-19 infections occurring among the unvaccinated, the pace of Los Angeles County residents being hospitalized due to the virus has begun rising at an equivalent rate of new cases, while the rate of people dying is also creeping higher, according to figures released Thursday.
"For the past few weeks I've been sharing with you that cases have been increasing at twice or more the rate of hospitalizations,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "However, comparing Aug. 4 with July 4, we see cases and hospitalizations rising at similar rates.''
During that time period, infections rose by 387%, while hospitalizations rose by 366%, she said.
"This alarming increase in the rise of hospitalizations serves as a stark reminder that this virus causes debilitating and dangerous illness among many who are infected,'' Ferrer said.
Dr. Thomas Yadegar, the Medical Director of the ICU for Providence Cedars Sinai Medical Center, sees the increase firsthand at his hospital.
"We went several weeks from not having any Covid patients and now it's exponentially increased over the past few weeks to the point where we actually have more patients now in our hospital than we did last summer as well as more patients in the ICU," he said.
He said the patients are primarily younger and healthier, and they're starting to see pediatric patients too.
"We are seeing a much younger subset of patients in their 20s and 30s. In fact, I have more patients in the hospital now in their 20s and 30s than I have had the past 18 months combined. We have seen an increasing number of pediatric patients becoming hospitalized and unfortunately, we are also noticing the same in our facility," said Yadegar.
LA County is not the only hotspot. Orange County officials are also reporting an increase in Covid hospitalizations. Dr. Victor Waters, the Chief Medical Officer at St. Bernardine Medical Center, said San Bernardino County is also experiencing a surge.
"In San Bernardino County, we are consistently seeing a rise. We've seen over 100 percent rise in cases since last week. You'll see more cases, patients in the ICU that are younger, even healthier patients which is really disturbing right now. We have a fourth surge because simply we weren't prepared. We didn't have enough people vaccinated to create the type of protection we needed," said Waters.
Dr. Waters said the symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, cough, and Covid pneumonia for patients.
"They're often very sick and they get sick very quickly requiring oxygenation to supplement their breathing and some even require to be intubated and put on a ventilator so this is the tragic thing that we've already been through with our last surge and we're beginning to see it again with different demographics," he said.
Waters said the majority of patients are unvaccinated, which matches data from local health departments too. He is urging people to get vaccinated, particularly within communities of color with low vaccination rates.
"It's amazing that people don't understand that most that are being admitted in the intensive care unit in the hospital are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. That's a huge problem. This level of distrust is really killing the community so I'm urging them to get off the fence and get vaccinated. They need to hear the need to get vaccinated from healthcare workers, physicians like myself who is African American and pushing the vaccine for months. They need to understand the myths out there are simply not true," he said.
Yadegar is also pleading with the public regarding vaccinations.
"My plea to your listeners is if you want to turn a deadly virus into a bad cold or a minor flu then get the vaccine. If you want to prevent yourself from becoming hospitalized for 10 to 14 days, get the vaccine. If you are on the side of the nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors, and you want to help us by slowing the spread of this virus, get the vaccine, and if you want to prevent your family from arranging your funeral then get the vaccine," he said.
Ferrer said roughly 8% of people who become infected with the virus are now requiring hospitalization, the vast majority of them unvaccinated. Meanwhile, the seven-day average number of deaths has risen to seven, compared to between four and five a month ago.
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Ferrer said there has been a 240% increase in hospitalizations over the past month among unvaccinated people aged 50 or over, and a 237% rise in hospitalizations for unvaccinated younger residents.
During the month of July, vaccinated residents represented just 13% of people hospitalized with the virus. She noted that of the 5.1 million vaccinated people in the county as of Aug. 10, 21,532 have tested positive for COVID-19, for a rate of 0.42%. A total of 549 fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.01%, and 55 have died, for a rate of 0.0011%. The rates of vaccinated people who have been hospitalized and died were both up slightly from last week.
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"These small increases provide proof that fully vaccinated people are becoming infected and that with these very high rates of community transmission, more fully vaccinated people are getting post-vaccination infections,'' Ferrer said. "However, this data should also provide significant reassurance that fully vaccinated people remain at relatively low risk of becoming infected, still below 1%, and even lower risk for having a bad outcome if they are infected.''
She added, "Trendlines like these are why we feel so certain the vaccines are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing here in L.A. County. Vaccinated people are exceptionally well protected from hospitalization. Although we have seen cases rise among vaccinated people and hospitalizations rise, it is hard to even draw a comparison between the experience they have with COVID and the severe illness the infection continues to cause among those unvaccinated.''
Her comments came on a day the county actually saw a slight dip in the number of overall hospitalized COVID patients. According to state figures, there were 1,645 COVID patients in county hospitals, down from 1,648 on Wednesday. There were 361 people in intensive care, up one from Wednesday.
The county reported another 23 deaths due to COVID-19 on Thursday, lifting the county's death toll to 24,854. Another 3,865 cases were reported, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 1,339,138.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 4.5% as of Thursday, down slightly from 4.7% a week ago.
As of Aug. 8, 72% of the county's eligible residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 63% are fully vaccinated. Among the county's overall population of roughly 10.3 million people -- including more than 1 million people ineligible for shots because they're under age 12 – 62% have received at least one dose and 54% are fully vaccinated.
Ferrer said statistics show that unvaccinated people are 3.6 times more likely to become infected with COVID than vaccinated people.
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