L.A. County Covid-19 Update: 2020 Ends With Day Of Death, Bodies Piling Up

On New Year’s Eve, Los Angeles County reported a third consecutive day of record coronavirus-related deaths. The tally was another 290 lives lost, although some of them are due to a backlog in reporting from the holiday weekend.

The region has set escalating records for daily deaths each of the last three days. As a result, L.A. county recorded its 10,000th death related to the virus on Wednesday.

California-at-large also reported an all-time high, with 432 Covid-related deaths, on Wednesday. That number represents a mind-numbing 617% daily increase in the past month. Over 14 days, announced Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, “that’s 3,477 lives lost.”

Daily deaths in the United States eclipsed that mark in one day on both Wednesday and Thursday, when the count rose to 3,744. That’s more than 1,000 additional Americans dying each day than there were in early December.

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L.A. County reported another 15,129 new cases on Wednesday, with 7,546 people hospitalized as the surge in deaths strained L.A.’s mortuaries.

“Many mortuaries across the county are filling up and they’re having trouble trying to make space,” said L.A. Director of Health Services Dr. Christina Ghaly on Wednesday. Ghaly oversees four county-run hospitals. “This is causing a backup of bodies at a variety of facilities across the entire county.” Ghaly said the county was “working with those facilities to try and come up with alternatives for storing those bodies.”

The HS director also said the L.A. County morgue, which she oversees, had “386 open spaces at the end of yesterday.” The issue, she said, was with “private hospitals who are experiencing issues with a backup of bodies due to mortuaries being over capacity.” The county medical examiner has taken charge of that capacity — or lack thereof.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer offered a sense of how extreme the number of daily deaths were.

The 14-day average number of daily deaths from the virus, according to Ferrer, is about 150. That’s “about equal to the number of deaths from all other causes, which is about 170” each day, she said.

To emphasize the scale of the losses, Ferrer’s department on Thursday began posting small obits of Angelenos whose lives were taken by the virus. New obits were appearing every 10 minutes, the rate at which Covid-19 is killing L.A. residents. The posts began at 12:01 a.m. on the 31st and will end as the clock strikes 2021.

The percentage of Covid-infected patients who are now sent to the ICU rose from 20% last week to 26% on Wednesday. So it’s not just the virus that’s proving fatal, but also the nightmare scenario of Angelenos dying because they cannot get the appropriate care in packed ICUs.

“The impact of this current surge is overwhelming our hospitals and and it is increasing deaths,” warned Ferrer.

Given the amount of travel and intermingling that reportedly happened over the holidays, said Ferrer, “we need to be prepared for an increase on top of this increase.”

“We all need to be prepared for another surge that will start with even higher case numbers in early January,” Ferrer said. “Increasing cases always translates to more and more people being rushed to already overcrowded hospitals and tragically also results in more people continuing to die.”

And that’s without calculating the impact of SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01, or more simply B.1.1.7. That’s the new variant of the virus that was first reported in the U.K. and has now made its way to California. The first instance of the variant in the region was identified on Wednesday in a 30-year-old San Diego man. B.1.1.7 is said to be 50-70% more infectious, though not more deadly.

But with L.A. hospitals overwhelmed, an increase in infections would eventually mean an increase in deaths as those who need treatment cannot get it.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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