LA County deaths milestone leaves health director choked with emotion

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Day after day since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Los Angeles County health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer has been tasked with the grim role of reporting how many people have died from the virus.

It's a cold statistic displayed on presentation slides that masks the true, unrelenting loss it represents: Family members, spouses, sons and daughters - dozens of them lost every single day in Los Angeles County alone.

On Wednesday, as Ferrer noted the county had passed the 8,000-deaths milestone, the weight of the moment left her choked up.

The county's average number of deaths had jumped from 12 per day at the start of November to 43 per day this past week - an increase of 258% in just over a month. And another 75 were reported on Wednesday alone, bringing the total to 8,075 deaths.

"While this trend line provides a frightening visual of our reality, the more terrible truth is that over 8,000 people ..." Ferrer started.

She shuddered and her voice trailed off, choking up with emotion. She gathered herself, but was clearly shaken.

" .... sorry. Over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back. And their deaths are an incalculable loss to their friends and their family as well as our community."

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The increasing fatality numbers that Ferrer was presenting Wednesday don't show any immediate signs of letting up, even with vaccine distribution on the horizon.

The trend in deaths lags the trend in new cases by several weeks: Some of the new infections reported Wednesday could potentially result in deaths reported weeks from now. So the massive surge in cases reported in the county after Thanksgiving - at one point hitting more than 10,000 new infections in a single day - will likely result in more deaths reported weeks from now.

"Since these deaths reflect our case counts from a month ago, as cases have continued to increase the past few weeks, we will bear witness to a significant rise in the number of people who are dying," Ferrer said.

A record number of people have been hospitalized in the county for COVID-19.

The county has surpassed 3,400 hospitalizations per day -- eclipsing the amount on Nov. 3 at 800. By next week, health officials fear that number could jump by as much as 700 additional hospitalizations daily.

And the trend Ferrer outlined in Los Angeles County has been mirrored across the state and nation.

Johns Hopkins University reports the nation has seen about 288,000 deaths from COVID-19 - and 1.5 million around the world - since the start of the pandemic.

There have been more than 68 million cases of the virus reported around the world, with 15 million in the United States.

California has reported more than 20,000 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 1.4 million cases.

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