LA County and Long Beach break new COVID records

The number of new COVID-19 infections soared to record highs this week, with Los Angeles County reporting a staggering 37,215 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, by far the highest single-day number since the beginning of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations also continued to climb, but the numbers still fell short of the peak set during last winter’s surge.

Long Beach saw a record of 1,852 new infections on Wednesday, pushing the city just over the 80,000 marker for total infections in the nearly two-year-old pandemic.

The city also reported a testing positivity rate of 23% percent, meaning nearly one in four people who test for COVID-19 are now testing positive. That number is up from just 3% two weeks ago.

While still inching higher, the number of hospitalizations and deaths has not seen a surge compared to last year. On Wednesday, the city reported 235 people hospitalized for COVID-19 up from 231 the previous day. The city also reported two new deaths.

Meanwhile, state figures showed there were 2,661 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Thursday, up from 2,461 on Wednesday.

While hospital numbers have been rising, officials have noted the generally lower rise in the overall number of COVID and non-COVID patients.

“Unlike last winter’s surge when overall hospital census increased pretty significantly, and we also saw that over the summer surge, now with the current surge the hospital census has remained much more stable,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “This can change. … But I do want to note that we haven’t seen the same rise we saw at the beginning of the winter surge last year with our surge in hospitalizations this time.”

In fact, many COVID-positive patients in hospitals likely didn’t realize they were infected until they went the hospital for a completely different reason. Ferrer said that in early November—before the highly transmissible omicron COVID variant began spreading—about 75% of COVID-positive patients were hospitalized specifically due to illness associated with the infection.

But as of late December, only 45% of COVID patients were admitted specifically due to the virus. The others only tested positive when they were admitted for treatment of other issues.

“It really makes a lot of sense when you’ve got a lot of community transmission you’re going to have more people testing positive who are asymptomatic for COVID illness but in this case getting hospitalized for something else,” she said “…It’s encouraging to see there are fewer people hospitalized for COVID illness during this surge, especially compared with prior surges.”

Statistics on COVID-positive hospital patients released Thursday continued to show that unvaccinated people are far more likely to wind up hospitalized than vaccinated people.

Ferrer noted that hospital numbers are rising in all categories—unvaccinated, vaccinated, and vaccinated-and-boosted. But unvaccinated people are 38 times more likely to wind up hospitalized that people have been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot.

Demand for COVID tests has also been growing rapidly, with long lines becoming common at testing centers across the county.

Due to the demand, Long Beach has expanded its testing efforts, while Los Angeles County this week was forced to suspend its program offering free at-home tests.

That program allowed residents to simply sign up through the county’s website, allowing them to get a test mailed to their home through Fulgent Genetics. The county’s website now says the program is suspended, with Fulgent saying it is on hold “due to high demand and shipping constraints.”

City News Service contributed to this report. 

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].