Shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new variant of the coronavirus is circulating somewhere in Southern California, leaders of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said no trace has been found in L.A. County to date.
“Our public health lab completed genome sequencing on 26 positive test samples, and we did not find any evidence of the U.K. under investigation… But this doesn’t mean that the variant is not circulating in L.A. County,” Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said during a media briefing Wednesday. “We have thousands and thousands of people getting tested every day and we’re just able to sample a small number of those tests results and do the gene sequencing. What it means is, as of right now, we didn’t find this variant in the first set of samples.”
Ferrer said the lab will continue to sequence additional samples and regularly report its findings.
“Whether or not the variant is present or not present here in the county doesn’t change the need for all of us to choose the strategies that we have available right now to limit exposure and spread of the virus,” she said.
As she detailed the 10,392 new cases of COVID-19 reported throughout Los Angeles County Wednesday, Ferrer noted the lower number of cases seen this week was probably related to the closure of testing centers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“Just two months ago, we averaged around 1,200 cases a day,” Ferrer said, which means the county has seen a tenfold increase in daily cases in less than two months. It’s a number that’s frankly staggering, Ferrer added. “Unfortunately, given the amount of travel and holiday intermingling that may be happening over this winter holiday, we all need to be prepared for another surge that will start with even higher case numbers.”
She said increasing cases always translate to more and more people being rushed to already overcrowded hospitals, and tragically also results in more people continuing to die.
Officials said as a result of the case surge, some who are hospitalized for COVID-19 will spend New Year’s Day in the hospital, “and some may not even survive,” County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said during the briefing. “You and your loved ones do not want to catch this virus because if you need a hospital bed, there may not be one available for you right away. In fact, some patients are waiting in ambulances or in a hospital waiting room waiting to be treated and to receive care because there’s so little space available in our hospitals. Please don’t ring in the New Year from a hospital bed, hooked up to a ventilator.”
Ferrer recognized the impact of COVID-19 in Latinx communities.
“The death rate went from about three deaths a day to nearly 16 deaths a day. This is an increase of more than 400 percent,” she said.
“While all groups are seeing increases in cases, the gaps are growing between those living in the least resourced communities,” Ferrer said, and those who have adequate resources.
“The impact of this current surge continues to overwhelm our healthcare system and it is increasing the number of people dying from COVID-19. We have reached the terrible milestone of exceeding 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 in our community,” Ferrer said. “What’s most heartbreaking is that if we had done a better job of reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened. As we come to the end of 2020, a devastating year for countless numbers of people, I know that I, like so many people, hold on to the hope for a brighter and better future. This upcoming year offers us the opportunity to rebuild a more just world after the pandemic and to make sure that we never again witness so much global suffering.”