Los Angeles County reported 8,860 new coronavirus cases on Friday, Dec. 4, breaking for the third time this week the all-time high for cases reported in a single day — foreshadowing yet again a dark winter ahead in the relentless pandemic.
An additional 60 deaths were also reported Friday, as the region braced for renewed stay-at-home orders dictated by the state based on intensive care unit bed capacity. As of 5:30 p.m. Friday, the state had not posted an updated index.
A total of 7,842 people have died from complications related to the coronavirus in L.A. County since the pandemic began and 430,583 people have tested positive.
Nationwide, the coronavirus was the leading cause of death this week, having now contributed to the deaths of more than 276,000 people in the U.S.
New guidelines outlined by Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday will impose stricter stay at home orders and business closures among particular region where ICU availability falls below 15%. A shortage in ICU beds would mark a dangerous turn for the pandemic, which so far has yet to completely overrun area hospitals, though virtually all at this point were preparing for the surge to get worse.
The new metrics divide the state into five regions with Los Angeles County joining 10 others in Southern California. On Thursday the region recorded a 20.6% ICU vacancy with officials saying it could fall 15% in a matter of days.
L.A. County’s available ICU beds were closer to 6% as of Thursday when the county reported a total of 140 vacant ICU beds out of roughly 2,500 countywide. Total hospitalizations for COVID-related illness reached 2,769 on Friday, based on a state dashboard, the highest yet in the county. Roughly 24% of patients admitted were in ICU spaces.
Dr. Brad Spellberg, Chief Medical Officer at L.A. County + USC Medical Center said the hospital was currently inundated with patients at their highest levels yet. The only silver lining at the county’s busiest hospital, he said, was that patients were generally less severe. But how long that would last was unknown.
“The concerning thing about that is whether it will last,” Spellberg said. “With the volume of patients coming in now. If the same number of people were going to the ICU we could be in trouble.”
Department of Health Services-operated UCLA-Harbor Medical Center near Torrance declined to say exactly Thursday how close the hospital was to reaching in-patient capacity.
“The number of COVID-19 patients at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is steadily increasing due to the current surge of cases across the county,” said spokeswoman Lavasha Floyd. “While the hospital is actively managing our beds and is fully able to meet patient care needs at this time, we are very concerned about having sufficient capacity to meet future patient care needs if the surge continues at this rate.”
Both Torrance Memorial Medical Center and Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance said Friday they are preparing for possible surges in coronavirus patients.
Erin Fiorito, spokeswoman with Torrance Memorial, said the hospital currently has sufficient supplies available of protective clothing and beds, including in intensive care.
“If faced with a surge, the hospital has the ability to adjust areas of the hospital to create additional ICU and bed capacity,” she said via email. “At this time, the hospital is averaging 40 to 50 COVID-19 patients and the situation remains stable and manageable.”
Those words were echoed by Sylvain Trepanier, chief clinical officer for Providence Southern California, who said they have increased temporary staffing in the form of travel nurses, who come from throughout the nation to work in hard-hit areas.
“We have surge plans that allow us to turn the dial up or down as we evaluate our number of COVID cases, numbers of beds available, numbers of critical care beds available, availability of ventilators, personal protective equipment, testing and availability of caregivers and providers,” Trepanier said. “To that end, we know if the time comes to stop conducting scheduled procedures that can be delayed.”
Fiorito urged residents to follow public health orders to reduce the pressure on local hospitals over the next month.
“Due to holiday celebrations and travel, the number of patients affected by COVID-19 is expected to increase in the coming weeks,” she said. “Torrance Memorial is adequately staffed and is monitoring infection rates closely and will enact additional measures if needed.”
Upon hearing the state orders Thursday, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said he shared the frustration of many residents, businesses and organizations who she said were all “equally blindsided” by the announcement.
“The state is hoping these new rules will lead to more buy-in and support among all of our residents,” Barger said. “However, they keep changing the rules and adjusting the restrictions which only leads to more confusion and diminishes compliance.”
Barger said she takes calls every day from constituents voicing their concerns along with business owners affected by the closures.
“It is my hope that the state will begin a process to get feedback from our local leaders and communities so that they truly have a voice in this impactful decision-making process,” Barger said. “This is all in our collective best interest to ensure greater support for public health restrictions for the safety and wellbeing of our residents.”
Supervisor Sheila Keuhl struck a more modest tone, saying it underscored the seriousness of the present moment.
“I’m really hoping that everyone will recognize the dire seriousness of this crisis, demonstrate the same discipline and commitment they did in April and just stay home as much as possible,” Keuhl said. “It’s time for us all to pull together again, bring the case rates down, do everything we can to protect the health of those we love, and honor the exhausting, dangerous and hard work of our doctors, nurses and health care workers.”
Meanwhile, county public health officials were busy preparing for the first distribution of coronavirus vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna to soon arrive intended first for frontline healthcare workers. Enough vaccine to vaccinate around 20 million people nationwide is expected to be available by the end of December. By early 2021, enough vaccine for 18 million more people should be available.
As a reminder, the current L.A. County health order restricts the following:
- Public and private gatherings with people outside your household prohibited, except for faith based services and protests.
- Essential retail maximum occupancy at 35%
- Non-essential retail, including indoor malls, at 20%
- Personal care services maximum 20% occupancy
- Libraries at 20% occupancy
- Fitness centers outdoors 50% occupancy
- Museums, zoos, gardens at 50% max
- Mini-golf, batting cases at 50%
- Outdoor recreation such as beaches, trails and parks to remain open
- Playgrounds are closed with the exception of childcare and schools
- Card rooms are closed
Staff writer Ryan Carter contributed to this report.