By CBSLA Staff

VENTURA (CBSLA) — Ventura County is seeing an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases that may be the result of Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.

“Perhaps we collectively put let our guard down just a bit too much during the holidays,” Dr. Rigoberto Vargas, Ventura County Health director, said.

On Wednesday, health officials reported 1,536 new cases and 16 additional deaths, bringing countywide totals to 54,494 cases and 388 deaths.

According to the state, data from the week ending Jan. 2 shows transmission rates in Ventura County at 131 cases per 100,000, surpassing hard-hit Los Angeles County, which had about 127 cases for the same number of people during the same period.

The correspondingly sharp rise in hospitalizations is putting tremendous pressure on the county’s hospitals, where the number of patients with COVID-19 has doubled over the past several weeks.

“The sustained surge that we’re experiencing has put tremendous pressures on our hospitals,” Dr. Richard Rutherford, an emergency physician at Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital, said. “We are full.”

St. John’s Regional in Oxnard says their surge in COVID-19 cases began three weeks ago, and has not let up — keeping intensive care units full.

“In the last several weeks we’ve almost doubled the amount of patients who have COVID,” Dr. Raj Bhatia, medical director of critical care at St. John’s Regional Center in Oxnard, said. “My heart goes out to how sick these patients are. They are usually hungry for air, so they breathe really rapidly.”

Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks said it has been forced to convert regular patient beds to increase ICU capacity.

“I’ve had 80-year-olds who’ve gotten tested positive and they’ve sat at home comfortably for their quarantine in two weeks and nothing’s happened,” Dr. Aamir Iqbal, an attending physician at Los Robles Hospital, said. “And I’ve had 30-year-olds who’ve had to go to the hospital bc they got so short of breath and their oxygen levels were dropping.”

County health officials said about half of all hospitalizations in the county were due to COVID-19, putting a strain on the entire health system.

As of Wednesday, there were 440 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county, 83 of whom were being treated in ICUs.