The COVID-19 surge in L.A. County continues unabated with 16,525 new cases and a record daily death count of 145 reported on Dec. 23.

County health officials urged everyone to stay home for the holidays and warned residents to turn down any vaccine offers from private individuals as scams are circulating.

“The winter holidays invite us to spread joy and light to those around us. Perhaps as we weigh the request to delay travel plans and gather only with members of our own household we can find comfort in making these sacrifices, because we know that by staying home we’re giving others the ultimate holiday gift; we may be saving their lives,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in a Dec. 23 public briefing.

Ferrer also issued a reminder that those who choose to leave the County over the holidays must quarantine for 10 days upon return.

As of Dec. 22 more than 38,800 frontline health care workers have been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. On Dec. 23 the County received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine and intends on distributing 116,600 doses this week to skilled nursing facilities workers and residents, EMTs, and firefighters.

Vaccines distribution is tightly controlled by the County and is only currently available frontline healthcare workers and skilled nursing facility residents. The County has received numerous reports of vaccine scams.

“Everyone should be on the lookout for these COVID-19 vaccine red flags: someone offers to move you into an earlier group to get the vaccine for a fee; someone tries to sell you a place on a COVID vaccine waiting list; someone on the street, online, on social media or knocking at your door tries to sell you a shot of the vaccine,” said Ferrer.

While the general public awaits broader vaccine availability, health officials emphasized the need to prevent travel and gathering as irresponsible behavior over Thanksgiving was a primary cause of the ongoing surge.

From Nov. 1 to Dec 18. cases by episode date increased by 907 percent, from Nov. 9 to Dec. 20 average daily hospitalizations increased by 547 percent. From Nov. 9 to Dec. 16 average daily deaths increased by 467 percent reflecting a change from 12 average deaths per day to 69 average deaths per day.

Health officials forecast that in the current surge, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 8700 people will die in L.A. County.

Hospitals are already working to their full emergency expanded capacity and ambulances are often waiting hours to offload critically ill patients, according to L.A. County Department of Health Services Director Christina Ghaly. On Dec. 22, 96 percent of all hospitals in the County had to divert ambulances to other sites at some point in the day.

“Half of all of the ICU beds are filled with COVID patients, and two thirds of these patients are suffocating due to the inflammation that’s in their lungs that’s caused by the virus. They’re suffocating to the point that they can no longer breathe on their own and they have to have someone put a tube down their throat in order to oxygenate their organs,” said Ghaly. “Many of these people will not live to see 2021.”

The continuously growing number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospital care is limiting the room for patients with other serious illnesses and injuries. According to Ghaly, this means people who are in need of acute care at a hospital may not receive it in the way they normally would.

“Please don’t travel. Please don’t gather with others. Stay home as much as you can,” said Ghaly. “None of us live in a vacuum, our choices do have consequences for many people around us, but together we can make a difference.”

clara@smdp.com