LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County health officials Monday are continuing to warn the public of more devastating times ahead, as COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to soar. Some are now calling it the new "epicenter" of the pandemic.
Los Angeles County currently leads the nation as the county with the most COVID-19 cases — 634,849, as well as deaths — 8,931, according to data from the county's health department and John's Hopkins University.
"Los Angeles has become the epicenter of the crisis," Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner wrote on Twitter Monday, citing data that showed Los Angeles as the city with the highest coronavirus positivity rate and most daily new cases per 100,000 residents nationwide.
On Monday, LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis pleaded with residents to cancel holiday plans and stay home to help save lives as cases of coronavirus continue to spread rapidly and overwhelm hospital capacity throughout the county and region.
"Collective action is needed now to stop the dangerous assault COVID-19 is inflicting in our communities. This past week, the county of Los Angeles reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the beginning of the pandemic," Solis said. "In the First District of Los Angeles County, there have been over 154,723 positive cases of COVID-19 total -- the most out of all five supervisorial districts.''
Solis pointed to "skyrocketing" numbers of cases in communities including East L.A., South Gate and South El Monte.
"As we near Christmas, I urge everyone to cancel their holiday plans to gather with members outside of one's households. This will save many lives," Solis said. "I recognize that the holidays will look different and it is frustrating, but modifying plans is critical for this pandemic not to extend more than it already has. Staying home with only your household will ensure more people can ring in the New Year from their homes and not a hospital bed."
ICU adjusted capacity for the Southern California region remains at 0% and the increased number of coronavirus cases has resulted in long waits for emergency care in overcrowded hospitals. Capacity is based on available staffing, rather than physical beds, and doctors and nurses are overworked and exhausted as hospitals run out of ways to boost the number of workers.
"L.A. County is now moving towards becoming the epicenter of the pandemic," Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, said during a press briefing on Friday.
"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," he said. "And if we don’t stop the spread, our hospitals will be overwhelmed. If you have a heart attack, if you get into a car accident, if you fall off a ladder or have a stroke, we may not have a bed for you."
LA County continued its record-breaking trend of hospitalizations on Monday, with 5,709 people hospitalized with the virus.
"From Nov. 9 to Dec. 17 average daily hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 increased a staggering 481 percent," explained Barbara Ferrer, the public health director for Los Angeles County.
"If you're still out there shopping for your loved ones for this holiday season or you're planning a holiday get-together, then you are missing the gravity of the situation that is affecting hospitals across Los Angeles County and California and this nation," county Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said. "People are very sick in the hospitals. They are dying there."
"And our hospitals may not have the equipment or the capacity or the resources to take care of you in the way that you need or expect," she said. "Though they may seem benign, these actions are extremely high risk, and we ask that everyone do everything they can to avoid spreading the virus to avoid prolonging the surge and avoid increasing the number of deaths that families across our county will experience in the days and weeks to come."
According to the county Department of Health Services, as of Monday a total of 776 hospital beds were staffed and available in the county, including just 30 adult ICU beds. The county reported another record-setting level of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Monday, with the number reaching 5,709, with 21% of those people, or nearly 1,200, in intensive care.
The county has an overall licensed ICU capacity of about 2,500 beds. According to the county DHS, the 70 "911-receiving" hospitals that have emergency departments surged their capacity to operate a daily average of 2,660 ICU beds last week. On average, those beds were occupied by 996 confirmed or suspected COVID cases on a daily basis, or about 37% of the 2,660 staffed beds. The hospitals last week averaged 55 open and staffed ICU beds on a daily basis last week.
Those 70 hospitals operated a daily average of about 10,000 non-ICU beds last week, with 36% of them on any given day occupied by confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, and only about 300 beds staffed and available each day.
LA County is vastly contributing to the surge of COVID-19 reported for the entire state of California. The state has recorded half a million COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks and current trends suggest that the state could have nearly 100,000 hospitalizations in the next month. Here in Southern California, the continuing surge of COVID-19 cases across the area prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to say in his teleconference on Monday that SoCal residents may be under a regional stay-at-home order longer than expected.
As ICU capacity stands at zero percent across SoCal, Gov. Newsom said he expects the stay-at-home order to be extended beyond the current expiration date of Monday, December 28, for the region. With the regional stay-at-home order, SoCal restaurants are restricted to takeout and delivery service only.
Gov. Newsom did not say when the new expiration date will be for the Southern California region.
CNS and the Associated Press contributed to this report.