LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations get underway in Los Angeles County, health officials warn of increasing strain on the local hospital system and warn it will take time before enough shots can be distributed to contain the virus.
There are more than 4,200 people now hospitalized with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, the highest it's ever been.
The county's available ICU capacity has also dropped to a dangerously low 2.7%. The state has set 15% as the threshold for triggering the latest stay-at-home order.
Vaccinations began Monday with health-care workers, as the county is expected to receive almost 83,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week. If all goes well, some 70% of the county could be vaccinated by the summer.
Until then, people are warned that precautions like social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding gathering in groups remain key to lessening the spread of the virus.
Officials say people under 50 are driving the transmission of the virus, while people over 65 are feeling the greatest impact. Geographically, communities in eastern and northern parts of the county continue to see the highest concentration of cases.
"This is a preventable tragedy because those most vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19 can be protected by everyone else," said county public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.
At Exer Urgent Care, CEO Rob Mahan says they are seeing a growing number of patients as hospitals in Southern California deal with the latest COVID-19 surge.
"As hospitals have become busier and busier, patients are looking for an alternative solution especially for some of the lower acuity issues that don't necessarily require going to the ER directly," Mahan said.
Exer says so far they've increased staff by 25% to meet patient demand.