During a New Year's Eve virtual briefing, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that 86% of people who died from COVID in 2020 had underlying conditions. This figure is down from more than 90% in the early days of the pandemic.
"This indicates, that in fact, that more people than ever are not only passing away, but passing away without any underlying health conditions," Ferrer said.
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Thursday was yet another record-setting day of COVID-19 deaths for the region. The county on Thursday reported a pandemic-high of 7,546 people in hospitals due to COVID-19, with 20% of them in intensive care.
With increased hospitalizations come increased deaths, and the county on Thursday reported another record number of fatalities -- 290 -- although some of those deaths were attributed to a reporting backlog dating back to the Christmas holiday weekend. This puts the total COVID death toll for L.A. County at 10,345.
The county announced another 15,129 confirmed COVID-19 infections, raising the countywide total since the pandemic began to 770,602. The overall rate of people testing positive for the virus stood at 15%, but the current daily rate is much higher, at about 22%, meaning more than 1 in 5 people who are tested for the virus test positive.
Meantime, the crunch at hospitals continues to get worse.
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"The current surge of patients ... it's kind of a hidden disaster,'' said Cathy Chidester, director of the county Emergency Medical Services agency. "It's not a fire. It's not an earthquake. It's not a train wreck that's right in the public view and they can see what is happening and they can avoid that area. It's all happening behind the doors of households and hospitals. So nobody is really, the general public, is not really seeing what is going on.''
Chidester said there are reports of hospitals being so overwhelmed that ambulances are waiting seven or eight hours in emergency bays, forcing patients to be treated in the ambulance. But more importantly, the delay is keeping the ambulances out of service, leaving them unable to respond to additional emergency medical calls, she said.
The crisis at hospitals have some facilities reassigning nurses from outpatient clinics to emergency and COVID units, reducing patient access across the board.
Public health officials are urging residents to stay home and not attend gatherings.
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City News Service contributed to this report.
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