LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- For the first time since late September, the number of people in Los Angeles County hospitals with COVID-19 has surpassed the 1,000 mark, echoing a sharp upward trend in infections and a dramatic increase in the rate of people testing positive for the virus.
According to state figures, there were 1,069 COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals as of Tuesday, up from 966 on Monday. Of those patients, 207 were being treated in intensive care, up from 200 a day earlier.
The increase is being closely watched by public health officials concerned that hospitals -- which expanded capacity to handle COVID patient numbers that topped 8,000 last January -- are less equipped to cope with such an intense surge this winter due to various factors, most notably a drop in staffing.
The L.A. County increase in COVID hospitalizations has been rapid, jumping by 30% over the past week. One month ago, on Nov. 27, the state reported just 568 virus patients in the county.
Also rapidly rising is the rate of people testing positive for the virus. According to the county Department of Public Health, the seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose to 14.5% as of Tuesday. One week ago, the rate was 3%. On Nov. 22, it was 0.9%.
The sudden rapid spread of the virus is being blamed squarely on the Omicron variant of the virus, which experts say is easily spread from person to person. Even people fully vaccinated are susceptible to Omicron infection, although health officials say they are far less likely to become severely ill, wind up hospitalized or die. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week unvaccinated people are 21 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.
The county reported another 9,473 new COVID infections Tuesday, bringing the cumulative pandemic total number of infections to 1,632,893.
Another 22 virus-related deaths were also reported, raising the county's death toll to 27,576.
Officials have said about 90% of the COVID deaths during the pandemic occurred in people who had underlying health conditions. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
"While we all wish that 2022 would begin without the continued tragedy of serious illness and death associated with COVID, we are instead facing the prospect of an alarming surge that requires every person to act with intentionality: get vaccinated and boosted, get tested, and please, always wear a mask around others,'' Ferrer said in a statement Tuesday. "These are the tools we have to try to keep each other safe over the holidays.''
Ferrer said last week the county was not immediately contemplating any renewed health restrictions in response to the latest virus surge, although she said everything remains on the table depending on the trajectory of the infections and the more critical impact on the hospital system.
The health department announced Friday that it was expanding access to free COVID testing amid greater demand around the holidays.
The changes include:
-- Extended hours of operation at sites across Los Angeles County;
-- Additional week and weekend dates;
-- Additional mobile testing units in hard-hit areas;
-- Re-launch of Holiday Home Test Collection Program with new guidelines to reach more people and make it easier to get tested. The link is at covid19.lacounty.gov/hometest.
Any county resident who is symptomatic or believes they were exposed to COVID-19 can order a home testing kit, which require swab collection to be mailed back for PCR test result.