LA County hospital beds continue to fill, topping 4,500 patients, as omicron’s toll widens

LA County hospital beds continue to fill, topping 4,500 patients, as omicron’s toll widens

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rose on Monday, Jan. 17 to a mark not seen since early February, as the omicron variant of the coronavirus continued its relentless toll on the population.

And with the rise, so came more staggering daily case totals and continued strain on weary medical staffs as the county remained clearly in the thick of the latest winter surge. Those staffs, too, much like many in the population, are bracing for a world in which coronavirus could be here to stay.

As of Monday, 4,564 people in L.A. County were hospitalized with the disease, an increase of 57 from Sunday, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. The last time hospitalizations were this high locally was in early February of 2021, when the region was coming down from the worst surge of the epidemic. That’s when hospitalizations hit peaks of more than 8,000 in early January.

Intensive Care Unit beds were also filled at their highest point since February 2021. As of Monday, 621 people were hospitalized in ICU’s, a measure of the severity of the illness of  those patients. In February 2021, ICU capacity were in the 600s. In January, ICU volume reached more than 1,700.

You could hear the impact of the virus in the weariness of Dr. Thomas Yadegar’s voice. Fresh off treating patients Monday morning, Yadegar — director of hospitalist services, pulmonary medicine department and intensive care unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center — just came off an unprecedented week. The staff at his private practice went from 7 to 1, as COVID-19 forced nearly the entire team to call in sick. Thankfully, some were coming back this week. And that was already on top of challenging staffing conditions at the hospital itself.

“I’m a little exhausted,” said Yadegar. “I’m ready for this winter surge to be over.”

There’s only so many patient phone calls one physician can take amid a pandemic while still tending to hospital rounds. Staff members are vital — and practices and hospitals everywhere just don’t have enough of them as they call in sick themselves as the toll of the omicron variant mounts.

The county’s Public Health Department posted 27 new deaths and 31,576 new COVID-19 cases.

If there was any silver lining, it was that the numbers were less than the tallies from throughout last week, with case loads over 40,000 and daily death tolls trending as high as 66.

Monday’s numbers, however, likely reflect delays in reporting over the weekend.

“Our hearts and prayers are with all those mourning the loss of their loved ones from COVID,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of Public Health, who has had to repeat variations of  that phrase just about every day for the last two years in her public statements and updates.

To date, 2,289,045 cases have been confirmed in the county. More than 10,664,000 individuals  have been tested for the virus, with 20% of people testing positive to date, according to the county.

Many experts believe the omicron outbreak will soon reach its peak and begin to fall. Officials are hoping the region will see a decline similar to what cities on the East Coast appear to be seeing.

But L.A. County, according to the data, appears to still be right in the thick of it, and the number of deaths — a lagging indicator — reflect that. On Jan. 10, the county reported a daily toll of 13 deaths. The next day, 15. But then the trend of daily confirmed deaths was steep — 39, 45, 48, 66 and 53 on Sunday.

“As deaths often lag behind surges in cases and hospitalizations, sadly, the increase in deaths does not come as a surprise and tragically, we are prepared for even higher number of deaths in the coming weeks,” Ferrer said Saturday. “With unvaccinated individuals 22 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to those fully vaccinated, residents should not delay getting vaccinated and boosted as these measures are saving lives.”

Health officials are urging residents to avoid going to emergency rooms unless absolutely necessary, and to not go to an emergency room to get tested for COVID.

Many coronavirus patients entered the hospital for other reasons and only discovered they had COVID after a mandated test, but the surging numbers are putting a strain on hospitals nonetheless, with many nurses and other staffers unavailable themselves due to the pandemic.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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