Photo by Kit Karzen

COVID-19 is rapidly becoming one of the most dangerous health conditions in Los Angeles and the disease is now the second leading cause of death countywide.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the dangers of the disease are very real during her Wednesday briefing and said COVID-19 is twice as deadly as the flu, but with far greater capacity for spread due to the lack of a vaccine.

Coronary heart disease was the top cause of death in the first six months of last year with nearly 6,000 deaths attributed to it. While final data for this year isn’t available yet, Ferrer said it appears that COVID-19, with over 4,200 deaths so far, is on track to claim more lives in Los Angeles County than any disease except coronary heart disease — killing more people than Alzheimer’s Disease, other kinds of heart disease, stroke and COPD.

She said comparisons to the flu are also false as COVID-19 is more deadly. She said that during the 2019/20 flu season, influenza killed 1,521 people.

“This is a tragic death toll and a sobering reminder of the importance of everyone getting their annual flu shots,” she said. “But in the first six months of 2020 COVID-19 killed more than twice as many people as the flu did over an eighth month period at 3,402. And I’d like to emphasize that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for COVID-19 at this time. One of the reasons that we’re working so hard to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 is to limit the strain on our healthcare system so that when flu season arrives in a few short months, we’ll be able to contain and slow the spread of COVID-19, while we know that our hospitals will also need to care for people with influenza.”

Los Angeles Health Services Director Christina Ghaly said the rate of hospitalization has leveled off after increasing for the past week. She said advances in treatment have also increased the supply of beds available.

“For some types of patients with COVID-19 that we used to treat with ICU level care and with mechanical ventilation, it is possible now that we have more experience in treating people and additional studies, it is possible now to be able to effectively treat them without the use of mechanical ventilation through the use mainly of high-flow oxygen,” she said. “Because of these changes, there has been a decrease in the projected number of the utilization of ICU beds and mechanical ventilators relative to the number of patients that require hospital admission for COVID-19.”

She said staffing is the bottleneck for care, rather than actual beds, and that the best way to secure healthcare resources is to work to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Study after study have shown that preventing transmission is possible, and relies on three main things: masks and face coverings, washing and social or physical distancing. The science on the power of these three things is not debated. They work. Our ability to beat COVID to maintain our hospitals ability to care for those who need them to allow our leaders to continue to reopen businesses to get our kids back into the classroom relies on all of our personal willingness to do these things that have been shown to work.”

Public Health confirmed 64 new deaths and 3,266 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. To date, Public Health has identified 164,870 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County, and a total of 4,213 deaths. Santa Monica has reported 571 cases.