By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Los Angeles County reported more than 8,600 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, continuing a precipitous climb that the county’s public health director warned could lead to record numbers of daily infections by the
end of the year.

Fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, Thursday’s 8,633 new infections marked a 33% jump from Wednesday’s 6,509. Wednesday’s number was more than double the total from Tuesday, when 3,052 cases were reported.

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Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned Wednesday that if infections continue such a dramatic rise, the daily case number could top 20,000 by the end of the year, reaching the highest level of the pandemic.

Ferrer noted Wednesday that hospitalization numbers have thus far remained relatively stable, crediting COVID vaccines for preventing infected people from becoming seriously ill. But on Thursday, the number of COVID positive patients in county hospitals rose to 801, topping 800 for the first time since early October, according to state figures.

(Allison Zaucha/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The 801 hospitalizations is up from 770 on Wednesday. Of those hospitalized, 174 were being treated in intensive care, up from 166 on Wednesday.

Ferrer said the vast majority of people being hospitalized due to the virus are unvaccinated, insisting that hospitalization numbers for vaccinated residents have remained low and flat since the shots became available.

According to county figures, the hospitalization rate for unvaccinated people was 25 per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday, compared to just 1 per 100,000 for the vaccinated.

According to Ferrer, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to get infected with COVID, 21 times more likely to be hospitalized and 18 times more likely to die.

The county on Thursday reported another 24 COVID-related deaths, raising the cumulative total to 27,512. The 8,633 new cases gave the county a pandemic total of 1,585,313. According to the county, the average daily rate of people testing
positive for the virus rose to 6.6% as of Thursday, more than triple the rate from a week ago.

(Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The surge in COVID infections is blamed primarily on rapid spread of the Omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa and has quickly migrated around the globe, including all 50 U.S. states. Health officials have said there is no evidence Omicron can cause more severe illness, but it can readily spread from person to person, including those who are vaccinated.

Ferrer said the county is not immediately considering a return to lockdown or other severe restrictions on public activity, but it will depend on the actions residents take to slow spread of the virus.

“I’ve always been transparent and honest that with a variant such as Omicron and potentially other variants that could happen in the future, every single option has to be on the table,” she said. “Every single tool we have has to be available for us to protect people’s lives and livelihood.”

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According to Ferrer, the daily test positivity rate doubled in nearly a week.

“Our test positivity has now jumped to 4.5 %,” Ferrer said. “Just last Thursday test positivity was 1.9%. These numbers make it crystal clear that we are headed to a very challenging time over the holiday.”

Ferrer warned that if this trend continued case numbers may rise well above 20,000 by the end of the year.

(CBSLA)

The public health department also pushed for residents to receive their boosters to gain full protection from COVID-19. Those who are fully vaccinated and boosted are 20 times more protected from the virus compared to only four times more protected than without a booster, according to Public Health data from Dec. 5 to Dec. 11.

Nearby hospitals are preparing for the worse as some of their own are contracting the virus.

“We do see our own staff getting sick,” said Adventist Health White Memorial Hospital operations executive Mara Bryant. “We have a doubling of our own staff that tested positive today versus yesterday and most of it from family gatherings on the outside.”

Bryant also said that the hospital has prepared for a possible winter surge, contemplating using the overflow tents which were set up last year.

“We’re preparing to have 200 patients again,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be over-prepared and we won’t need any of those resources but we would much rather be safe.”

With the holidays quickly approaching, many residents are scrambling to get tested before their parties and gatherings.

“We’ve been scrambling to find COVID tests at Walgreens and CVS which we’ve been unable to find,” said Andrea Maury.  “My daughter and my oldest son are going to be going to their grandma’s house who is requiring that they get tests — which I appreciate.”

The surge has derailed some residents’ holiday plans with some canceling trips.

“One of my brothers popped positive and also exposed my mother at the same time and now there’s not much of a reason to go because we can’t visit them,” said resident Marissa Passer.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)