Photo by Kit Karzen.

On Dec. 11 L.A. County recorded a new daily high of 13,815 cases entering what health officials called “uncharted territory” that could put serious strain on hospital capacities in coming weeks.

“We’re on a very dangerous track to see unprecedented and catastrophic suffering,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “At this point, we’re seeing daily numbers of cases and hospitalizations that we’ve not experienced and, frankly, did not anticipate.”

The County has now passed the alarming milestone of half a million COVID cases and the ongoing surge does not currently show signs of stopping. The average number of daily new cases this week is 10,283, compared to 6,200 last week, and 4,400 two weeks ago.

“These rapidly increasing cases are, at this point, a very real threat to the capacity at our hospitals and in our ICU units,” said Ferrer. “The impact of this Thanksgiving surge of cases on top of already rising cases is creating an extraordinary stress on our healthcare system.”

The 4,200 daily case average from two weeks ago has led to 3,017 current hospitalizations per day and 694 current ICU patients per day. If the same proportions continue, today’s 10,200 daily case average will, in two weeks, lead to 7,326 hospitalizations per day and 1,685 ICU patients per day.

The 1,685 forecasted ICU number is cause for alarm as there are around 2100 ICU adult beds across all County hospitals and these are essential for patients requiring care for other illnesses including trauma, cardiac surgeries, and cancer treatments.

In spite of the distressing case rates, Ferrer did not indicate that the County would introduce new restrictions in the immediate future, but noted that this could change if the surge continues beyond the winter holidays.

“At this point really the goal is to get people to adhere to the safer-at-home order that’s in place. We think it’s a really strong safer-at-home order. We think it really does provide a lot of protection for all of us,” said Ferrer.

The arrival of the Pfizer vaccine serves as a glimmer of hope. Phase 1A of distribution is expected to begin next week, which is reserved for hospital workers and skilled nursing facilities residents and workers. The Moderna vaccine is slated for a hearing by the FDA Advisory Board on Dec. 17, and is expected to begin distribution this month.

By the end of the year, California expects to give the first dose of the vaccine to the 2.16 million people in phase 1A, but it is likely to be many months until the vaccine is available to the general public.

In the meantime, health officials urged Angelenos to heed safer-at-home directives to rein in the current spike by wearing a face covering and keeping physical from anyone outside of their household.

“I think what we have right now would work if we had almost everybody doing it. I think it will slow the surge,” said Ferrer. “We just need everyone to start doing what they need to be doing.”

For more information, visit the County Department of Public Health coronavirus page: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus or the California Department of Public Health coronavirus page: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/nCOV2019.aspx.

Clara@smdp.com