After months of trying to communicate the devastating impact of Covid-19 to pandemic-weary Angelenos, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer’s moment of televised emotion might have emphasized the urgency of the crisis more powerfully than the all the numbers, charts and data visualizations put together.
Ferrer — who has delivered straight-forward updates on the virus since the pandemic began — was brought to tears on Wednesday and had to pause her presentation as she explained the “significant rise in the number of people who are dying.”
“The more terrible truth is that over 8,000 people — sorry…” Ferrer said through welling tears as she paused, before continuing with her voice breaking, “…over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back. And their deaths are an incalculable loss to their friends and their family, as well as our community.”
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It was a rare bit of upset from Ferrer, who has endured death threats, faced protests outside her home, dealt with angry questions from reporters and daily recounted the region’s deepening pandemic with patience, grace and unwavering optimism.
Ferrer surveyed some of the grim statistics on Wednesday, noting a 300% increase in average daily case numbers over the past month, including a jump in the daily average from 4,900 in the last week of November to 8,933 in the first week of December. She said the county’s recent rate of positive COVID test results rose from 3.5% in early November to the current 12.5%, along with a tripling of hospitalizations, rising from 791 on Nov. 1 to 3,299 on Wednesday.
There were 3,299 people reported hospitalized due to COVID-19, another record high.
The county reported an additional 9,243 new infections on Wednesday. That’s not far off the county’s daily record of 10,528 cases, which was reached on Sunday. The new cases lifted the county’s cumulative total since the pandemic began to 475,271.
The county also saw 75 more deaths due to the virus which increased the county’s overall death toll to 8,075.
COVID-19 Daily Update:
December 9, 2020
New Cases: 9,243 (475,271 to date)
New Deaths: 75 (8,075 to date)
Current Hospitalizations: 3,299 pic.twitter.com/RefLaryd3J
— LA Public Health (@lapublichealth) December 9, 2020
Those deaths included what is believed to be the first death of a child in the county and the state due to complications of a pediatric inflammatory syndrome that has been linked to COVID-19, according to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has treated 32 patients with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C,” according to a statement from the hospital. “The patients range in age from 4 months to 17 years. Thirty-one patients have been successfully treated and discharged. One patient with a complex pre-existing cardiac condition passed away due to complications tied to MIS-C.”
MIS-C can result in inflammation of body parts including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal organs, potentially having life-long health impacts.
Further details about the child who died were not released.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two dozen children across the country have died from the syndrome, among nearly 1,300 reported cases. In late October, Los Angeles County health officials reported a total of 43 known cases locally.
The syndrome has been linked to the coronavirus, with the CDC noting that children and adolescents contract it “after a COVID-19 illness or contact with someone with COVID-19.” It is still unclear what causes some children to develop the syndrome, while others who have had coronavirus illness or contacts do not.
Los Angeles County’s surge in COVID-19 cases is dramatically increasing hospital and ICU admissions and contributing to swamped emergency rooms, with the number of daily admissions expected to jump as high as 700 per day by next week, health officials said on Wednesday.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county Department of Health Services, said county hospitals are currently seeing nearly 500 new admissions each day. With the county’s COVID-19 transmission rate remaining high — and with an estimated one in 140 residents circulating in public believed to be infectious — the numbers are expected to keep rising.
“Given that we’re just now seeing the hospitalizations that resulted from the recent Thanksgiving holiday, we anticipate that the number will continue to grow over the next few weeks, with up to 700 new daily COVID hospitalizations in just one week from now,” said Ghaly.
With that number of new daily admissions, the county is facing “possible shortages in the total number of hospital beds — as we are seeing happen in other counties across California — and an expected shortage of ICU beds,” she said.
Ghaly said hospitals will be forced to implement “surge plans” over the coming month to meet the demand. She noted that as of Wednesday, a poll of the county’s 70 “911-receiving” hospitals showed a total of 1,096 available staffed hospital beds, and 129 intensive-care unit beds.
She hailed the work of hospitals thus far managing demand, noting that the number of available ICU beds has consistently ranged from 110 to 175 over the past month, despite a 40% increase in the number of occupied beds.
The brisk business at hospitals is also heavily impacting emergency rooms, and it’s leading to more incidents of ambulances being diverted to other medical centers due to overcrowding. Ghaly said hospitals can request diversions of ambulances carrying advanced-life-support patients due to overwhelmed emergency departments, generally for a two-hour increment.
“This option is being used widely by hospitals across the county at present, with yesterday (Tuesday) 77% of L.A. County hospitals using diversion at some point during the day,” she said. “And that’s in comparison to what’s normal at this time of year of somewhere between 10 and 15 percent.”
But with a 82% increase increase in new cases between the last week of November and the first week of December, hospital diversions may be like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The recent surge in cases, said Ferrer, will lead to an according surge in hospitalizations two weeks from now and and another jump in deaths two weeks after that.
“Where we are and where we are headed is quite alarming,” she said.
City News Service contributed to this report.
Watch Ferrer’s presentation below.