Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

New cases of COVID-19 continue to explode in LA County, with health officials Thursday reporting 8,633, up from Wednesday’s more than 6,500.

A surge was expected, as health officials warned ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. But the rate at which new cases are cropping up is unprecedented, officials said.

Wednesday’s figures were more than double what was reported Tuesday and health officials said COVID numbers are rising “staggeringly fast.”

Thursday’s report includes 200 new cases reported by Long Beach on Wednesday.

Long Beach, meanwhile, reported 305 new cases Thursday, continuing a massive increase from recent weeks. Already this week, the city has reported 908 new cases, compared to 611 last week and 500 the week before.

While the new cases figure Thursday pales in comparison to the height of the pandemic, which saw the county add nearly 22,000 on Jan. 4, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday the dramatic rise could lead to record daily numbers.

County officials reported 24 new deaths and that 770 people are hospitalized with COVID-19—up from 748 reported by the county Wednesday.

The Long Beach health department Thursday, reported one new death for a total of 1,067 since the onset of the pandemic. The city reported that 78 people are hospitalized with the virus in area hospitals, nearly double the 41 reported on Dec. 10.

Death and hospitalizations figures have been fairly stable, Ferrer said Wednesday. However, throughout the pandemic, increased hospitalizations have trailed behind a rise in cases by several weeks. Similarly, a rise in deaths trials increased hospitalizations by several weeks.

Ferrer did note Wednesday that the vaccine is likely keeping infected people from becoming seriously ill and urged residents to get vaccinated or receive their booster shot. She added that the majority of people hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated.

According to county data, the hospitalization rate for unvaccinated people was 25 per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday, compared to just 1 per 100,000 for the vaccinated. Ferrer said unvaccinated people are five times more likely to get infected with COVID, 21 times more likely to be hospitalized and 18 times more likely to die.

Fully vaccinated people with boosters are 20 times more protected from infection versus only four times more protected than those without boosters, as compared to unvaccinated people, the county said Wednesday.

The county’s seven-day positivity rate increased from 6.6%, more than trip the rate of 1.7% on Dec. 15.

In Long Beach, the seven-day positivity rate increased to 3% for the first time since Sept. 9. Similarly, the daily cases per 100,000 residents increased to 19.3, its highest point since Sept. 22.

The surge of infections is due primarily to the rapid spread of the omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa in late November and has quickly migrated around the globe, including all 50 U.S. states. There is no evidence omicron can cause more severe illness, but it can readily spread from person to person, including those who are vaccinated, health officials have said.

As of Sunday, 78% of eligible county residents aged 5 and up have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 70% were fully vaccinated. In Long Beach, 77.5% of eligible residents aged 5 and up have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while just over 69% are fully vaccinated, as of Wednesday.

Ferrer said the county is not immediately considering a return to lockdown or other severe restrictions on public activity, but it will depend on the actions residents take to slow spread of the virus.

“I’ve always been transparent and honest that with a variant such as Omicron and potentially other variants that could happen in the future, every single option has to be on the table,” she said. “Every single tool we have has to be available for us to protect people’s lives and livelihood and … avoid overwhelming the hospital system.

“I think if we can all do this, all of us, every single person, commit to celebrating with as much safety as possible,” she added, “which may mean you’re changing up some of your plans, we’re going to be OK.”

CNS contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with data released by Long Beach Thursday.

Explainer: What’s happening with omicron in Long Beach

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Brandon Richardson

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