LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County on Thursday reported 37,215 daily new COVID-19 cases, the highest number of daily new cases reported throughout the pandemic. However, health officials say that because the new Omicron variant causes less-significant symptoms, the case numbers are no longer the focus of concern. Instead, most experts believe the focus should instead be on COVID-19 hospital admissions. And those aren’t climbing as fast.
While much slower than the drastic rise in cases, hospitalizations also continued to rise in the county on Thursday, with 2,661 residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19, causing a large strain on the hospital systems. Just Wednesday, FOX 11 confirmed that 52 out of 62 hospitals that LA City Fire dispatches to are currently on diversion, closed to new patients due to lack of hospital beds and staffing.
The strain on the hospitals caused County Supervisor Holly Mitchell on Thursday to plead to the public not to go to the emergency room or urgent care for COVID-19 testing. "This is a public health crisis," she said.
The county on Thursday also reported an additional 30 deaths attributed to the virus.
The winter surge of COVID-19 cases is also greatly impacting frontline workers, with at least 505 Los Angeles Police Department and 299 Los Angeles Fire Department employees currently out of action due to COVID-19.
"Our response times have been impacted by our lack of staffing due to COVID," LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas warned earlier Thursday.
Surging infection numbers prompted the county this week to amend its public health order, requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
The order, issued Wednesday, will take effect Jan. 17 and requires employers to provide affected workers with "well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks, or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks."
The revised order also amended the definition of outdoor "mega events," where masking is required, to 5,000 or more attendees; and the definition of indoor "mega" events to 500 or more people. The numbers align with those in the state's health order. The county's order also "recommends" that food and drink be consumed only in designated dining areas.
"Given the explosive spread of the virus, activities that put us in close contact with many other people now have an increased risk," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "As such, everyone needs to be sensible about how to protect themselves and those they love by layering on protections whenever around non-household members.
"At work, this means upgrading your mask if you work indoors and you are in contact with other workers or members of the public. At entertainment venues, this means limiting the time you spend without wearing your upgraded mask. And for other activities, this may mean postponing your participation until community transmission is much reduced."
Demand for COVID tests has been growing rapidly, with long lines becoming a common site at testing centers across the county. The demand has also led to a run on take-home tests, which quickly vanish from store shelves.
Los Angeles County this week was forced to suspend its program offering free at-home tests. That program allowed residents to simply sign up through the county's website, allowing them to get a test mailed to their home through Fulgent Genetics. The county's website now says the program is suspended, with Fulgent saying it is on hold "due to high demand and shipping constraints."
According to Fulgent, no new orders will be accepted until at least Jan. 12. Incoming samples from tests that were previously distributed are still being processed.
Tune in to FOX 11 Los Angeles for the latest Southern California news.
CNS contributed to this report.