L.A. County reports record 37,000 daily coronavirus cases but says Super Bowl still on

Los Angeles County reported more than 37,000 new coronavirus cases Thursday, another record-breaking total as the Omicron variant continues to surge across the region.

Even with the pandemic’s astonishing resurgence, health officials say they remain confident that next month’s Super Bowl can take place as scheduled at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

“I feel really confident that this event will happen here in L.A. There’s no indication that it won’t,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told reporters Thursday.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be challenges if the Omicron surge is still in full swing by the time the event rolls around on Feb. 13. But Ferrer said she hopes the county will be seeing decreasing daily coronavirus cases by then.

“We’re working closely with both the NFL and SoFi stadium to have a wonderful Super Bowl here with the appropriate safety precautions that will keep fans safe and our community safe,” she said.

A number of national public health experts have speculated the winter surge will peak sometime in January.

Nevertheless, Thursday’s case figure underscores the “urgency for all of us to take whatever additional steps are possible to address this surge in new infections,” Ferrer said.

The latest total — 37,215 — continues the spate of eye-popping case counts that began appearing around the holidays.

Since New Year’s Eve, L.A. County has reported almost 174,000 new cases — about 1.7% of all Angelenos — over the course of a week.

California health officials have noted that COVID-19 hospitalizations have not yet surged to the same extent as infections. But the figure is rising rapidly and will likely continue to do so until the torrent of infections subsides.

Statewide, 8,671 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized Wednesday, a 139% increase from two weeks ago.

That single-day total exceeds the peak of last summer’s Delta wave, which topped out at 8,353 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Aug. 31. Last winter, nearly 22,000 coronavirus-positive individuals were being cared for on some days.

When it comes to COVID-19, officials say the three most significant risk factors for hospitalization are age, preexisting health conditions and vaccination status.

“You can’t do anything about the first two, can’t roll back your age, you can’t help your preexisting condition,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday. “The one thing you can do, that is in your power, is to get vaccinated.”

Hospitals are having to manage the influx of new patients while simultaneously juggling their own coronavirus-related staffing woes.

Officials across Southern California have expressed alarm at the demands being placed on the healthcare system. In L.A. County, 911 response times are longer, and officials there and in Orange County have said it’s taking longer to offload patients from ambulances. The staffing shortage is considered by some in San Diego County as worse than during last winter’s surge.

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer with Orange County, urged people not to come to the emergency room unless they were experiencing a true emergency and not just to get a coronavirus test.

“Our hospitals are getting full,” she said. “Our ERs are getting full. So if you are looking for a test, if you have mild symptoms, please consider first a virtual appointment with your healthcare provider to not overwhelm the ERs even more, because we really want ERs and urgent cares to really just take care of the urgent situations.”

COVID-19 is only one reason Californians must go to the hospital. Around this time last year, roughly 53,000 people were hospitalized statewide for all reasons, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary. As of Wednesday morning, the total patient count was approaching 51,000.

Some officials have also noted that a significant number of current patients may be those who tested positive for the virus at a hospital but weren’t seeking COVID-19 care when they were admitted.

Earlier this week, roughly two-thirds of patients who had tested positive at hospitals run by the L.A. County Department of Health Services were admitted for something other than the coronavirus, according to Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.

That’s a far cry from last winter’s surge, when officials said more than 80% of COVID-19 patients were in the hospital because they were experiencing severe illness associated with the disease.

The statewide share of these incidental infections among hospital patients remains unclear. The Times asked the California Department of Public Health for such information this week, but has yet to get a response.

But Mark Ghaly said Wednesday that the distinction is important in understanding, and responding to, current pandemic conditions.

“It helps us not only manage the staffing challenges within some of the hospitals, but also to project out the need for additional ICU capacity,” he said.

And, he added, as California sees “an increasing number of fully vaccinated individuals, boosted individuals, admitted to the hospital with incidental COVID … I think we’re starting to see sort of a different approach to that.”

Times staff writer Gregory Yee contributed to this report.

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