On Dec. 16 L.A. County hit a record 131 daily deaths and reported that only 102 of 2,500 adult ICU beds remain available, with capacities projected to be overwhelmed in the coming weeks.

Officials also reported an all time high of 21,411 new daily cases, although this number was inflated by a backlog of approximately 7,000 cases.

“These are nonetheless extraordinary numbers, and they represent transmission that continues to be out of control,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in a Dec. 16 public briefing.

There are currently 4,656 people hospitalized with COVID-19, reflecting the consequences of average daily cases counts of 6,300 two weeks ago. With current average daily case counts of over 12,000, County models predict that patients requiring ICU care could surpass the total number of licensed adult ICU beds by 1,000 or more in the next month.

“I want to be very clear, our hospitals are under siege and our model shows no end in sight,” said L.A. County Department of Health Services Director Christina Ghaly. “I haven’t said this before because Los Angeles County has not been in this situation to this point in the pandemic before, but the worst is still before us.”

From Nov. 1 to Dec. 8 average daily case count increased by 656 percent and testing positivity rates almost quadrupled from 3.5 percent to almost 15 percent. Hospitalizations increased from 791 patients on Nov. 1 to 4,656 patients on Dec. 16 and are expected to reach 5,000 within a few days.

“It’s the first time really in my medical career, and I’ve been practicing emergency medicine for over a decade, where I have felt that the level of care that we can provide for our patients is actually threatened by this overcrowding and the surge of COVID-19 patients,” said Denise Whitfield, emergency room physician at Harbor UCLA Medical Center.

On average it is estimated that two people in L.A. are currently dying every hour from COVID-19, according to Ferrer. As stresses on hospital systems continue to grow this is also likely to increase.

“We’re now experiencing a distressing increase in deaths that surpasses anything we saw in the early days of the pandemic,” said Ferrer.

The current surge has also led to a growing disparity in health outcomes in low-income and minority communities.

The death rate among Latinx individuals at 4.5 daily deaths per 100,000, is twice the rate for white residents. Black residents are experiencing a case rate of about 270 new cases per 100,000 individuals, which is almost three times the rate experienced by white and Asian residents.

“The life and death consequences of racism and poverty have played out in devastating ways and they continue to do so,” said Ferrer. “The widening gaps are a stark reminder that many of our essential workers are black and brown and many are not able to telework or stay home. Many work at jobs with low wages and many live in under resourced neighborhoods.”

As vaccination for high risk healthcare workers began across the County this week, officials stressed that this will not provide timely or widespread enough protection to stem the current surge.

L.A. County received 83,000 vaccine doses in its first shipment and is expected to receive a second shipment by Dec. 21 and a third shipment by the end of the month.

According to Supervisor Hilda Solis, the County hopes to provide an initial dose of the vaccine to between 250,000 and 300,000 health care providers, emergency medical workers, and staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities by year end.

County officials stressed that distancing, masking, and remaining at home are the only tools that can slow the current surge. Given the extremely high level of community transmission, these precautions are more essential now than at any other point in the pandemic.

“Things that were safe two months ago or one month ago are not safe today,” said Ghaly. “Having just a very small birthday party for your child in a park is not safe. Having a very small holiday gathering is not safe. Getting together with a couple of friends at dinner is not safe.”

Clara@smdp.com