Hospitals in Los Angeles County continue to struggle with the rising number of COVID-19 cases, but local health department leaders said Monday that the region is likely to experience the worst conditions of the pandemic this month.

Public health director Barbara Ferrer issued the warning Monday alongside Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and county stakeholders when local leaders each took an opportunity to discuss case counts as well as the “counterproductive” push to reopen local businesses.

“We’re likely to experience the worst conditions in January that we faced the entire pandemic and that’s hard to imagine,” Ferrer said. “In slightly more than one month, we doubled the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19, going from 400,000 cases on November 30 to 800,000 cases on January 2. It took us nine-and-a-half months to get to the first 400,000 cases,” but only one to get another 400,000.

“The anticipated surge from the winter holiday gatherings has begun and tens upon tens of thousands of people are paying the price with new COVID-19 infections,” Ferrer added, stating the increases in cases are likely to continue for weeks to come as a result of holiday parties and returning travelers.

Solis and other speakers said during the briefing that residents should keep in mind that community transmission rates are so high that one runs the risk of an exposure whenever they leave home. And with hospitals and mortuaries so overwhelmed that the California National Guard arrived Monday to assist the L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner, officials called on the public to take precautions, especially since local health care workers have not received as many vaccines as promised by the federal government.

Ferrer added the high number of COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized is distressing not only for those who have COVID-19 but for all others in the county who need acute care.

“People who have a stroke or a heart attack or experienced a traumatic injury from a car crash are finding it more difficult to access care compared to months ago,” Ferrer said after she reported 77 additional deaths and 9,142, new cases Monday.

The total number of deaths in LA County now stands at 10,850. “And today’s relatively lower number of new cases reflects the closure of many testing sites and delays in reporting over the holiday,” Ferrer said. “This number is very likely to increase in the days ahead,” and the region may very well be on its way to a weekly death toll of 1,000 people or more.

“When the current surge began, the average number of people dying of COVID on a daily basis was about 13. Now, we consistently average significantly more than 100 deaths a day,” Ferrer said. “On December 30, the seven day average of daily deaths was 110,” which is an increase of 700% from when the surge began.

“Another way to look at this is that we’re losing — on average — a person every 15 minutes here in L.A. County,” Ferrer said. But this heartache does not need to continue if everybody does their part to stop the surge.

Ferrer asked the public to take personal responsibility and follow the rules and ask others around to do the same. Simple measures that we have in place like wearing face coverings, maintaining your distance, avoiding gatherings and using sanitizer go a long way to reversing the deadly trends of recent, she said.

As of Monday, Santa Monica had reported 2,901 cases.

brennon@smdp.com