For the first time since March 7, 2020, there are no patients being treated at Long Beach Memorial with COVID-19, hospital officials said today.

“This is a day we’ve been waiting for and when I learned that our last COVID patient had been discharged … I was overcome with a sense of relief,” Dr. Graham Tse, physician-in-charge for the MemorialCare campus, said in an email to the Post.

Amid a surge of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in late 2020 and early 2021, Memorial reached a record 208 coronavirus patients, including 12 at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital, according to spokesperson Richele Steele.

The number of coronavirus patients being treated in other area hospitals has also dwindled to a small handful. For weeks, both Lakewood Regional and Los Alamitos medical centers have averaged fewer than five coronavirus patients, according to spokesperson Jennifer Bayer. For the past three weeks, the two hospitals have averaged just one or two per day, she added.

“This is an exciting milestone for Memorial and we are encouraged to see low hospitalizations across the city,” Long Beach Health Officer Dr. Davis said in an email to the Post. “That said, COVID is unpredictable, so we ask people to continue to be vigilant.”

Information for St. Mary Medical Center was not immediately available.

Throughout the pandemic, hospitalizations from the coronavirus have fluctuated greatly. The number of coronavirus patients across the area’s four hospitals reached a high of 581 in January 2021, then dipped to eight by early June.

Following the statewide reopening on June 15, hospitalizations rose steadily through mid-August before topping out at 143. The number of patients again decreased to a low of 38 in October before the emergence of the omicron variant, which pushed hospitalizations back up as high as 367 in January of this year.

“I have a sense of pride in and gratitude for our staff and physicians and the amazing work and collaboration they provided throughout the pandemic,” Tse said. “There were moments of sheer exhaustion and not once did their commitment waiver.

“There were so many challenges,” he added, “but every staff member and physician across both of our hospitals provided amazing patient care.”

State and county health officials have noted a slow but noticeable rise in the number of COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious BA.2 omicron subvariant, which now accounts for the vast majority of new cases. County officials on Friday reported a 15% increase in the number of new cases over the past seven days compared to the previous seven days.

The increase in cases, however, is slower in California—the nation’s most populous state—than other parts of the country, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency. Because of the nature of the increase, Ghaly said the state has no plans to reimplement any restrictions, including the indoor mask mandate, which was lifted in mid-February.

Though the county has seen a slight increase in new cases, the number in Long Beach remains low. The city has reported only 18 new cases over the past seven days, compared to 76 the seven days prior, according to city data. Similarly, the city’s positivity rate has hovered around the 2% mark for the past month.

Long Beach reported a net loss of 21 cases on Friday (agencies can report negative cases when databases are cleared of duplicate entries), while the county reported 1,355 new cases.

A new study, however, suggests that the number of LA County residents who have been infected with COVID-19 is far greater than the number confirmed through standard testing due to asymptomatic people not getting tested or a lack of access to tests.

“The researchers estimated that at the time of the study, which was back in late spring of 2021, 30% of LA County adults had been infected and 37% of children had been infected,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said of the results from the CalScope study.

In that same time period, the county was only reporting infections in 10% of adults and slightly under 10% of children, she said.

The county Friday reported 13 new deaths. The city, meanwhile, has only reported a single coronavirus-related death since March 29.

Health officials continue to urge everyone to get vaccinated against the virus, including remaining up-to-date on booster shots as they become recommended. Countywide, 75% of residents ages 5 and older have been inoculated against the virus. In Long Beach, meanwhile, 74% have been vaccinated, but only 36.5% of those ages 5 and up have received a booster.

But for now, health care workers just want to enjoy the respite from what has been a chaotic and uncertain period in history.

“While I wish we would have reached this milestone before this long, I am happy that our staff are experiencing this absence of COVID patients going into a holiday weekend,” Tse said. “The pandemic has been challenging and while COVID is not gone, it is getting better every day and people are learning how to live responsibly with it.”

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.