By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — COVID-19 outbreaks at workplaces have soared dramatically in recent weeks in response to rising community transmission, Los Angeles County health officials said Wednesday.

Officials warned that employers need to ensure their workers and customers are protected.

“We have a problem with COVID-19 transmission at worksites across the entire county,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday.

“As the percentage of people who are positive with COVID-19 increases, there is simply a much larger pool of infected people walking around, often without symptoms, that now expose a greater and greater percentage of people to the virus.”

Ferrer said in one month’s time, outbreaks at general worksites — including warehouses, manufacturing facilities and logistics companies — increased from an average of nine per week to 44 per week.

The outbreaks reflected a continued rise in cases countywide. On Wednesday, L.A. County health officials reported an additional 218 COVID-19 deaths raising the death toll to 12,955.

Officials also reported 14,564 new cases, bringing the county’s caseload to 958,497.

Ferrer noted that average daily new cases have risen by 1,092% since November, average daily deaths are up 1,133% and hospitalizations are up 875%.

Officials said hospitalizations appear to be leveling off at an average of just under 8,000 patients per day. Last week, the county’s patient numbers were well above 8,000.

“While the numbers have plateaued at this number just shy of 8,000, they have leveled at a rate that is really not sustainable,” Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said. “This high plateau does not leave enough open beds to care for patients without COVID. And it does not still allow us to be prepared for an additional onslaught of patients that may present over the next couple of weeks in a potential post-holiday surge.”

Ghaly said the county’s hospitals have not yet begun to see the results of gatherings and virus transmission that likely occurred over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“Even if the slight decline continues, we are nowhere near being in the clear in the L.A. County hospital system,” she said. “Hospitals cannot sustain the high level of beds that are occupied with COVID patients.”

Ferrer said the county is also bracing for the likelihood of a new variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom taking hold locally.

“According to the latest available science, the UK variant doesn’t make people sicker, but it is more transmissible, meaning it can spread more easily,” Ferrer said. “… Current projections by the experts predict that if left unchecked, this variant could dominate locally by March.”

Ferrer said because of the variant’s ability to rapidly pass from person to person, people need to continue taking precautions.

“We should be prepared to do more if cases remain high,” she said. “The work ahead requires us to take every action necessary to reduce transmission.”

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)