LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise as the southland heads into the winter months, with an especially concerning spike in the number of infections involving the Omicron variant.

LA County has seen a dramatic increase in hospitalizations and health leaders are worried.

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“We are issuing, as we know, a public health alert with cases increasing and the threat of Omicron spreading and being more infectious during this winter holiday season. We are going to need to be smart and cautious as we celebrate,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of LA County Health, said.

With the holiday season in full swing, public health officials are focused on the challenge ahead, the expected winter surge in coronavirus cases, and like before, leaders are worried about whether or not the hospitals can take it.

“We have staffing shortages that we already are facing. We have a more active flu season in front of us ready, and we have many of our hospitals already filled because we never really have recovered from a highly infectious Delta variant,” Ferrer said.

There are now 30 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in LA County. Among those cases, 24 were in vaccinated people, four of whom also had boosters. None of them, however, developed serious illness.

Since Thanksgiving, the number of people who have needed to be hospitalized has risen dramatically:

  • Ventura County is 49%
  • LA County is up 39%
  • Riverside County is up 36%

While the numbers might sound alarming, the Chief Medical Officer at LA County USC Medical Center, Brad Spellberg, offered some perspective.

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“Despite all the variants, the cases have plateaued at a level tenfold below where they were last year when we had no variants and no vaccine,” Spellberg said.

LA County has even gone so far as to add new rules for people planning to attend indoor or outdoor mega-events, tightening restrictions on those who are unvaccinated.

“We’ll, in fact, see a pretty significant surge in our cases and depending on exactly how large that increase is, it can in fact result in really placing way too much stress on the hospitals,” Ferrer said.

Many experts said we still need more data about how effective vaccines may or may not be against Omicron, but that all signs point to vaccines being the best way to prevent serious illness or death.

“The tools we have to combat this pandemic are very simple,” Spellberg said. “Get vaccinated, by far the most effective tool we have.”

LA County Health also said if people were thinking about a big gathering inside for the holidays, they might consider skipping it and that big groups are safer outside this year, since vaccinated people could be at an increased risk because of the new variant.

Still, experts said vaccinated people are much better off than people who have not gotten their shots.

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