LA County reports another 12,488 COVID-19 cases, 91 additional deaths

Lab staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) while collecting tests from travelers in an on-site Covid-19 testing laboratory at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on December 31, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon

Los Angeles County reported 12,488 new cases of COVID-19 and 91 additional deaths on Sunday.

A total of 7,544 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized with the virus, with 21% in intensive care, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. That's a decrease from the 7,627 patients reported on Saturday. The county's totals for the entire pandemic are now 818,639 cases and 10,773 fatalities.

The case load has doubled in the past month. Conditions are dire at hospitals in the county, with ambulances waiting up to eight hours to off-load patients, leading to a shortage of paramedic crews on the streets and longer 911 response times.

"Our deepest condolences go out to the many families mourning a loved one who passed away from COVID-19 and you remain in our thoughts as we begin this new year,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday.

"The strategy for stopping the surge is fairly straightforward. When people stay away from other people, the virus cannot spread as it is doing now. The more we stay home and the more we avoid in-person activities with other people we don't live with, the more we reduce the spread of the virus."

"While health officer orders create the framework for protecting each other, it is our actions that stop people from being hospitalized and dying. When we follow the public health safety directives with intention, we avoid getting and transmitting COVID-19; this is how we stop the surge,'' Ferrer said.

RELATED: White Memorial hospital getting help from National Guard, state, Army

Amid the unfolding disaster, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is sending experts to help with the oxygen delivery systems at six of the county's older hospitals, state officials announced Friday.

"The current surge of patients ... it's kind of a hidden disaster,'' Cathy Chidester, director of the county Emergency Medical Services agency, said earlier this week. "It's not a fire. It's not an earthquake. It's not a train wreck that's right in the public view and they can see what is happening and they can avoid that area. It's all happening behind the doors of households and hospitals. So nobody is really, the general public, is not really seeing what is going on.''

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information

Chidester said there are reports of hospitals being so overwhelmed that ambulances are waiting seven or eight hours in emergency bays, forcing patients to be treated in the ambulance. But more importantly, the delay is
keeping the ambulances out of service, leaving them unable to respond to
additional emergency medical calls, she said.

"We're running out of ambulances, and our response to 911 calls is getting longer and longer,'' Chidester said.

She said in the Antelope Valley, the county is using ambulances and ambulance companies "that are not traditionally 911-response ambulances'' just to keep up with the demand.

Get your top stories delivered daily! Sign up for FOX 11’s Fast 5 newsletter. And, get breaking news alerts in the FOX 11 News app. Download for iOS or Android.