The percentage of COVID-19-positive hospital patients admitted to intensive care units in Los Angeles County is slowly rising, despite suggestions that the Omicron variant of the virus causes less severe infections, health officials said.
According to the county Department of Public Health, average daily hospital admissions of people with COVID are also rising, from 588 per day the week ending Jan. 11 to 644 the week that ended Monday.
During that same period, the percentage of COVID-positive patients admitted to the ICU went from 25% to 31%, and the percentage of patients requiring ventilation jumping from 20% to 27%.
“Let’s not fool ourselves by not recognizing the danger presented by the Omicron variant which is capable of spreading with lightning speed and causing serious illness among our most vulnerable residents,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have recognized that while many experience mild illness from COVID, there are others, who we love and need, that will not do well if they become infected.
“And while vaccines and boosters provide powerful protection, those who are older, have serious health conditions or are immunocompromised remain at higher risk,” she said. “We still don’t know the longer-term consequences from Omicron infections, including the development of long COVID or MIS-C among children.”
According to state figures, there were 4,701 COVID-positive people in county hospitals as of Tuesday, up from 4,564 a day earlier. The number of those patients in the ICU was 680, up from 621 on Monday.
While the overall COVID hospitalization number remains below last winter’s peak of more than 8,000, health officials stressed that the rising patient population is creating strain at hospitals that were already coping with staffing shortages. Those shortages have been exacerbated by COVID cases among healthcare workers, which have also been rising.
Between Jan. 7-13, a total of 1,268 COVID cases were reported among healthcare workers in the county, a 30% jump from the week of Dec. 31, when 973 were reported, according to the county.
“So please continue to do your part in slowing the spread of Omicron to help us keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and out of the hospital,” Ferrer said. “Wear a well-fitted medical-grade mask any time indoors or at crowded outdoor locations and curtail high-risk activities during surge. And please stay away from others if you are infected or sick. Working together to reduce infections is still an essential strategy.”
She again urged people to get vaccinated, and called on those who are vaccinated to get boosters. According to the county, people who are vaccinated are six times less likely to wind up in a hospital ICU than the unvaccinated. People who are vaccinated and boosted are 25 times less likely to be admitted to an ICU.
The county on Tuesday reported 37 additional COVID-related deaths, lifting the overall county death toll from the virus to 28,122. Another 22,688 new infections were also reported, giving the county a pandemic total of 2,311,568.
The death and case numbers reported Tuesday are likely artificially low, due to delays in reporting from the MLK holiday weekend.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus continued a downward trend Tuesday, falling slightly to 16.3%. That’s down from 16.5% on Monday. The rate was more than 20% a week ago.
The downward trend in testing positivity is an upbeat sign, but could also be the natural result of a dramatic upswing in the overall number of people getting tested in recent weeks, particularly as schools resumed classes after the winter break.
A month ago, the testing-positivity rate was just 2%.
A new county health order took effect Monday requiring employers to provide employees with upgraded masks, such as N95, KN95 or KF94. Ferrer said all residents should consider wearing such upgraded face coverings when mingling in public, rather than cloth ones.