LA County health director warns against nonessential activities amid COVID surge

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Amid a dramatic surge in COVID-19 infections, Los Angeles County's public health director Tuesday urged residents to avoid non-essential activities in the coming weeks, particularly those that are indoors and involve mingling with unvaccinated or higher-risk people.

Fueled by the omicron variant of COVID-19, the county is experiencing pandemic-high levels of daily infection reports and the highest rate of virus transmission to date. The county on Tuesday reported 34,827 new infections, along with 15 more deaths.

"While we're in the surge, we do ask that you exercise more caution, even if you're vaccinated and boosted," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting. "One way to reduce transmission is to wear a high-quality mask whenever you're around non-household members... We're also asking that over the next few weeks, we all try to avoid non-essential activities where people are unmasked and in close contact with others.

"We know how important getting together with friends is to our well-being," she said. "We need to be sure we're able to keep each other safe. The reality is that parties and events -- especially those indoors with unvaccinated individuals or those at high risk for severe illness -- make it very easy for this virus to spread. Limiting our time with others to those more essential work-related or school-related activities is a prudent action for everyone to take whenever possible."

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The surge of COVID cases in L.A. County has been driven by the omicron variant, which spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains.

"One difference in this recent surge when compared to our previous surges is that many vaccinated people are among those infected," Ferrer said. "In part this reflects that over 80% of L.A. County residents 12 and older are now fully vaccinated. And in part this is due to the ability of omicron to evade some of the protection offered by the vaccines."

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Health officials say another difference between the current surge and last year's surge is that ICU admissions for COVID are only about 10 to 15%, but there is a shortage of staff at hospitals.

"The much larger factor that we're facing is the large number of staff that have tested positive and are out on isolation protocols," said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director. "This number is in the several hundreds and has made it virtually impossible to staff a hospital in line with the state's minimum mandatory staffing ratios."

County officials say about 2 million eligible residents have not received their first dose of the vaccine. They say that creates vulnerability since they are most likely to suffer severe illness.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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