Story at a glance

  • Los Angeles is averaging 14,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.
  • Hospitals are nearing capacity.

The latest COVID-19 epicenter has shifted coasts, moving from New York to the Midwest and now moving to Los Angeles.

The city reported more than 13,000 new cases on Dec. 27 alone, pushing the city to hit record highs in seven-day testing averages and positivity rates.

The Los Angeles Times notes that with this wild uptick in cases comes dwindling hospitalization capacity. Intensive Care Unit bed numbers are falling, and health care providers may have to begin rationing care across county and state medical facilities.


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“Ambulances are circling hospitals for hours trying to find one that has a bed open so they can bring in their critically ill COVID patient gasping for air,” a doctor at an L.A. County public hospital told reporters last week. “We’re literally hanging on by a thread.”

Epidemiologists and urban experts say that some of the city’s infrastructure and design characteristics made it easy for the virus to spread. Combined with lockdown-weary Angelenos and cooler winter weather, COVID-19 was able to gain ground despite the city’s prior strict lockdown measures.

“There is no city as large and complex as L.A. The closest might be New York. And we saw what happened in New York,” Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco, told The Times.

An early sign of the outbreak occurring was Thanksgiving. Sensors at the Transportation Security Administration stations located in airports recorded millions of travelers moving over the holiday period, adding to experts’ worries of a new rise in cases.

“We realized, ‘Oh, my God. We’ve got everyone traveling, like hundreds of thousands of people are traveling,’” Bibbins-Domingo added. “We at that point got really scared, because we just sort of knew in our core that we were headed to a surge on top of a surge.”

Now, Los Angeles is averaging 14,000 new COVID-19 infections daily.

“We’ve moved from having waves to now having a viral tsunami occurring here in Los Angeles,” Robert Kim-Farley, a medical epidemiologist at UCLA, told The Guardian.

The rampant and dense homelessness and poverty that characterizes millions of Los Angeles’s inhabitants also made it more challenging to isolate and socially distance.

“Los Angeles has the combination of poverty and density that leads to a virus like this being able to spread much more quickly and be more devastating,” city Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said.

Residents flouting public health protocols could also explain the skyrocketing new infections, but that confusing public health messaging from city officials could fatigue residents even further. 

“Gatherings with masks outside are a very low-risk activity, and so, to restrict that, I think, is misguided,” Leo Beletsky, a health sciences professor at Northeastern University, said. “There’s been a number of instances where restrictions have not been closely tailored to the evidence and haven’t been clearly communicated, which has opened the door to misinformation.”

One silver lining is that Los Angeles’s death toll is still far from that of New York’s in spring. Still, the state is distributing thousands of body bags and 60 morgue trucks to hospitals. 


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Published on Dec 28, 2020