With the Delta variant of COVID-19 continuing to rage, Los Angeles County crossed the grim milestone of 25,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began, with the public health director lamenting that vaccinations makes virtually all COVID fatalities preventable.
“When you think that over 18 months we've lost 25,000 people, it's staggering and deeply upsetting,” Barbara Ferrer said during an online briefing. “It (COVID-19) is one of the leading causes of death here in L.A. County. I think we lose more people ... to heart disease and associated illnesses related to heart disease, but I think unfortunately COVID is going to be right up there as one of the leading causes of death in L.A. County for this past year, and that's tragic.
“The message on that is almost nobody ought to be dying of COVID anymore, so let's get people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” she said. “This does not need to be the leading cause of death.”
Ferrer noted that by comparison, the flu causes between 1,000 and 1,900 deaths per year in the county.
The county confirmed another 35 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 25,002.
Another 3,239 infections were also reported, giving the county an overall total of 1,362,848.
Ferrer said she expects daily new case numbers to remain high in the coming weeks due to increased testing being required at many schools and businesses. She also noted that the county's cumulative case total will take a sharp rise on Friday, when health officials add more than 10,000 new cases to the overall pandemic total -- representing people who received a repeat positive test more than 90 days after their original infection.
She said such repeat infections had not originally been tallied as part of the total.
The number of COVID-positive patients in L.A. County hospitals actually dropped slightly on Thursday, with state figures putting the number at 1,786, down four from Wednesday. There were 414 people in intensive care, up from 406 the previous day.
Hospitalization numbers have been steadily rising for more than a month, but Ferrer noted Thursday that between April and mid-August, roughly 25% of the COVID-positive patients were actually hospitalized for a reason other than the coronavirus. Their infection was detected only during a routine admission screening.
While continuing to profess the effectiveness of vaccines, Ferrer noted that the percentages of fully vaccinated being infected and hospitalized have been rising over the past three months.
She said that in April, vaccinated people represented only 5% of the overall number of cases in the county. In July, that number increased to 30%. Vaccinated people represented only 5% of hospitalized patients in April, but 13% in July.
Overall, however, the percentages of vaccinated people who test positive, are hospitalized or die from COVID remain low -- all less than 1%. Of the nearly 5.15 million fully vaccinated residents as of Tuesday, 27,331 have tested positive, for a rate of 0.53%. Only 742 were hospitalized, for a rate of 0.014%, and 68 have died, a rate of 0.0013%.
“With these high rates of community transmission, more fully vaccinated people are getting post vaccination infection, however, this very same information also makes it clear how much protection fully vaccinated people have,” Ferrer said. “Most of us that are fully vaccinated, we don't get infected. And if we do get infected, we don't end up hospitalized, and they are very unlikely to tragically lose their lives to COVID if fully vaccinated.”
Recent case numbers appear to indicate that the increase in new infections seen over the past two months appears to be leveling off. But Ferrer warned that a leveling off is “just not good enough,” particularly heading into the winter months.
“Yes, we're worried about the winter,” she said. “We'd feel a lot better about the winter if our vaccination numbers all go way up, because at this point the vaccines are still doing exactly what we needed them to do, which is preventing people from getting seriously ill and dying.”
Latest figures show that 73% of county residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine. Among the overall 10.3 million residents of all ages in the county -- including those too young to be eligible for the shots -- 63% have received at least one dose and 55% are fully vaccinated.