Los Angeles county scientists estimate that one in three residents in the county have been infected with Covid-19 at some point since the beginning of the pandemic, a reflection of how severely the virus has overtaken the most populous region in California.
The new estimate by county scientists would mean that more than 3 million of the county’s 10 million residents have been infected with coronavirus. As of Thursday, Los Angeles county had more than 975,000 total reported cases, with 17,323 new cases in the past 24 hours. Through the course of the pandemic, 13,234 people have died in LA county because of Covid-19, accounting for nearly half of California’s total deaths.
Ten people on average tested positive for Covid-19 in LA county each minute, Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director, said this week. The county has a 20.5% positivity rate, meaning that for every five county residents who are tested, one is positive. One projection from early January estimated that one in every 17 people in LA county currently had Covid.
Since the surge began in November, Los Angeles county had seen a staggering 898% increase in cases, Ferrer said. There had been an 884% increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations and a 1,125% increase in deaths, with the virus killing someone every eight minutes. She predicted even more of an increase in cases following the New Year’s holiday.
“The damaging impact to our families and our local hospitals from this surge is the worst disaster our county has experienced for decades,” Ferrer said.
Southern California is one the hardest-hit areas in the state, along with the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Southern California’s 15 counties comprise a majority of the state’s population, including many lower-income residents who may live in crowded areas or work in jobs that place them in close contact with customers or other employees, increasing their risk of infection. In particular, the virus has disproportionately ripped through the Latino communities of these regions.
Hospitalizations because of Covid-19 have soared across California, with many of the state’s hospitals out of regular intensive care beds for the sickest Covid-19 patients.
Southern California is at surge capacity for intensive care unit beds, with some hospitals forced to squeeze gurneys in chapels and hallways. In the county’s hospitals, more than half of all patients and 75% of those in the ICU have the virus, said Dr Christina Ghaly, LA county’s health services director. “Just as in all hospitals, we still have patients who are being boarded in the emergency departments and we still have our clinical care teams caring for more patients than what they would under normal circumstances,” Ghaly said.
Health officials have expressed optimism now that vaccine distribution has begun, but California’s process has been frustratingly slow and confusing. The state has received more than 3.4m doses – about 12% of the US’s total doses – but administered just more than a quarter of its supply. Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, has committed to vaccinating 1m more residents by the weekend.
On Wednesday, following a federal directive, the state widened the parameters for who is eligible for a vaccine to include Californians ages 65 years or older. The first group eligible for the vaccine – an estimated 3.3 million healthcare workers and long-term care residents – were supposed to have all received their first dose by early February. It’s unclear how the 6.6 million Californians ages 65 years or older will affect the timetables.
Southern California has opened mass vaccination sites in places like Dodger stadium in Los Angeles and Disneyland in Anaheim in hopes of speeding up the process.