L.A. County hospitals decompress as coronavirus continues gradual slowdown

Many Los Angeles County hospitals are beginning to gradually return to normal, although patient levels still remained relatively high, health officials said Monday, Feb. 8.

This was a welcomed sign of relief, officials said, after hospitals were stretched to their limits for weeks in response to a historic surge in new coronavirus patients that peaked a month ago. But it did not mean the county was completely out of the woods yet, officials warned.

There were now 4,079 COVID-19 patients admitted in L.A. County hospitals, according to the state dashboard, nearly a 50% decline from highs topping 8,000 in the first week of January.

As a result, diversion rates were now back to normal with roughly one-third of hospitals diverting ambulances in a 24-hour period. Hospitals are now rescheduling elective procedures and surgeries. And temporary waivers that allowed hospitals to expand nurse-to-patient staff ratios in order to deal with a surge of patients have now been withdrawn.

All that being said, Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Monday that hospitals were still facing challenges when it came to staffing. Admissions for COVID-19 were down, but Intensive Care Units were still often above normal capacity, Ghaly said.

“Many hospitals still have a large number of staff on leave for a variety of reasons,” Ghaly said. “The rates and infections are down, but many staff are also down with the need to care for family at home.”

On Monday, county health officials reported 93 deaths and 2,741 new cases. Both numbers were well below daily averages over the past week, though officials cautioned that typically fewer cases and deaths are reported on Monday due to delays in data collection over the weekend. More than 18,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in L.A. County and 1,149,064 have tested positive.

The county’s daily update did not include updated figures from Long Beach and Pasadena.  On Monday, Pasadena reported 35 new cases and 3 new deaths for totals of 10,508 cases and 278 deaths, respectively.  Long Beach’s totals, as of Saturday, were 49,603 cases and 722 deaths since the pandemic began.

Countywide, cases were now down roughly 77% since Jan. 8. And deaths were down about 45% since Jan. 30, officials said.

“We hope this trend continues and we can reduce our daily case rates enough to allow our elementary schools to meet the daily threshold to reopen,” Ferrer said.

About 1,500 schools have reopened for students with special needs and about 300 schools were now open at least in part for Pre-Kindergarten to 2nd grade students. For the remainder of schools to reopen, cases would need to drop to below 25 per 100,000 people. Currently, the adjusted case rate is 38.7.

Roughly 500,000 teachers, in addition to other essential workers, were expected to become eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine in roughly two weeks, Ferrer predicted, though the exact timeframe was still up in the air because the county was still not sure how many doses it will receive from week to week.

Last week, the county received 184,625 vaccines in what has been a fluctuating allocation. The limited supplies this week forced officials to set aside most of the vials for second doses with first dose appointments only available on Monday. This week, the county was expected to receive 215,000 vaccines with roughly 55% going to second dose recipients next week.

“We’re encouraged by this week there is an increase in our shipment and we hope that this trend will continue,” Ferrer said.

So far, the county has received a total of 1,281,925 vaccine doses with 1,051,229 already in people’s arms. Officials have noticed some issues, however, in how the vaccine has been distributed in terms of racial equity. Blacks have received 3.5% of doses and Latinos 24.9%, while Whites have received 25.4%, Asians 17.9% and multi-raced individuals 17.4%.

“Clearly there is a need to target the hardest hit communities,” Ferrer said. “We are going to continue to work with our community partners to provide better access to neighborhood sites and information about the vaccines.”

County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Hilda Solis called the racial discrepancies “disappointing.”

“I am calling on all of us to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that the vaccine gets to those who need it the most,” Solis said. “While supplies are still limited we need to be vaccinating and making sure we reach the most impacted communities.”

In some cases, officials said volunteers would go door to door spreading information about the vaccine and where to get it. There were now roughly 360 vaccine administration sites including 35 additional sites in South Central L.A. and 14 new sites in East L.A.

Officials said they were also looking at ways to increase access to the vaccine for seniors with limited mobility.

Worksite outbreaks continued to be a concern, with more than 1,200 ongoing this week.

The county also reported deaths among health care workers has now risen to 191 people.

“We’ll continue our efforts across the county to make sure  health care workers are protected at their worksite,” Ferrer said.

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