COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in Los Angeles County since the recent holiday season, averaging about 30,000 new cases each day since mid-January.
There were 5,925 new COVID-19 cases reported Sunday in LA County, totaling over 1,000,000 currently positive COVID-19 cases in the county. There have been 16,770 deaths caused by COVID-19 in LA County. Even with the slight downturn in reported cases, LA County has taken drastic measures in response to the overwhelming number of deaths reported in January, including with regards to the air quality index.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District, a pollution regulator, said in a press release from Jan. 17 that they have issued an emergency order and are temporarily suspending certain limitations for crematoriums due to the backlog caused by the pandemic. Funeral homes and crematoriums are so overwhelmed with individuals who have passed due to COVID-19 that they have needed to cremate more bodies than what has been regulated by environmental agencies in pre-pandemic years, according to the press release.
“The current rate of death is more than double that of pre-pandemic years, leading to hospitals, funeral homes, and crematoriums exceeding capacity without the ability to process the backlog of cases,” the press release said. “The Los Angeles County Medical-Examiner Coroner and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have requested that South Coast AQMD suspend limits on cremations in order to protect public health and to respond to the current emergency.”
In the Santa Clarita Valley, there have been 144 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. As of today, there is a total of 23,876 positive COVID-19 cases, with 197 deaths in SCV, as reported by Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.
On Jan. 11, Henry Mayo reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths since the onset of the pandemic — nine deaths in three days.
Patrick Moody, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Henry Mayo, said, “We did report today [Jan. 25], we have 74 patients in the hospital today. It changes so much, but it is trending down.”
This “trend down” may not last for long, however, as Gov. Gavin Newsom decided on Jan. 25 to lift the stay-at-home orders and reopen businesses. Allowable activities include outdoor dining at restaurants, personal care services at 25% capacity, indoor shopping centers at 25% capacity, outdoor private gatherings totalling 15 people limited to three households, fitness facilities and more.
“That doesn’t really concern me, I think that the community and the state in general, from an economic standpoint, needs to have some sort of leniency in order for them to survive because right now these businesses are having a very challenging time,” said Dr. Bud Lawrence, Henry Mayo’s Medical Director of the Emergency Department. “It doesn’t concern me in that way, I just think that people have to be very reasonable about the fact that if we roll back the restrictions, cases will increase. So, I think we have to have a very realistic outlook on what to expect over the next two, three, four weeks. I think that right now there’s been a bit of a downswing in cases throughout LA County, so I think that we can tolerate more cases, but we would ideally not like to have any cases. It’s just one of these facts that we’ve found out about COVID-19, that the more you open things up, the more likely it is that you will have more cases, and I think we have to be ready and prepared for that.”
With an ongoing ICU available capacity rate of 0% throughout Southern California, COVID-19 has overwhelmed hospitals to the point that their policies and procedures needed to be changed.
“Just because of the pandemic in general, we have stopped allowing visitors except in certain cases,” Moody said. “Everyone who comes into the hospital is screened, their temperature is taken, so we’ve taken steps like that in response to the pandemic.”
Across Los Angeles County, first responders have taken more measures to prevent further infection in regards to other health emergencies. A Jan. 4 statement from the Emergency Medical Services Agency reads, “Effective immediately, due to the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on EMS and 911 receiving hospitals, adult patients in blunt traumatic and nontraumatic out-of-hospital cardiac arrest shall not be transported if return of spontaneous circulation is not achieved in the field.”
Essentially, this means that if anyone suffering from cardiac arrest outside of the hospital is unable to be revived by paramedics on the scene, they will not be transported to the hospital and will be declared dead on the scene.
“LA County has basically said that if a patient has a full arrest, which would be their heartbeat stops and the breathing is not working,” said Lawrence, when discussing this policy change, “particularly in a trauma situation where you have blunt trauma, which is like car accidents and things like that, or penetrating trauma, which is bullets and knives — if they are unable to get a pulse back, they’ve decided to say, currently the system is fairly overwhelmed, not only the emergency departments but also paramedic ambulances are a bit overwhelmed, they feel the best option is to not transport those people…The thought process likely is that, since their survivability is so low, it’s not beneficial to transport them in this period of COVID where the system is being somewhat overwhelmed.”
Lawrence also explained another policy change Henry Mayo has implemented due to COVID, in which children who have been involved in accidents will likely be transported to other pediatric specialty hospitals where more hospital beds are available, since Henry Mayo is not a pediatric specialty hospital and is experiencing a lack of available beds.
“The purpose of that is not to say that Henry Mayo doesn’t have the capability or the services to care for this patient in the emergency department, it more has to do with what sorts of beds are available within a specialty hospital, mainly a pediatric floor or a pediatric intensive care unit,” Lawrence stressed.
Amidst all of these new regulations and policy changes, hope is on the horizon when it comes to administering vaccines. Henry Mayo has been permitted to offer the Pfizer vaccine to those who qualify.
“About 60% of our [Henry Mayo’s] employees have been vaccinated,” Moody said “We’re now operating a clinic that’s open to the public on behalf of the county health department. Now, we’re vaccinating people 65 [years old] and older who make appointments through the county website. We’re continuing to vaccinate our employees, although a lot of them have been vaccinated now.”
A major setback to the vaccination process has been the slow rollout of the vaccines due to the nature in which the vaccines must be administered. Each vaccine provider must be approved by the state, according to the California Department of Public Health website, and each person who gets vaccinated must qualify for the vaccine for their specific group, and registered into a system to ensure the second dose of the vaccine is administered on time, according to the state’s California For All website.
Gov. Gavin Newsom presented that only about 35% of the vaccines that have arrived in California have been administered — about 454,000 of 1.3 million. Newsom has promised new funding efforts for a faster vaccine rollout, and stated in a press conference on Jan. 4 that the current vaccination rate was “not good enough.”
Another drawback to vaccinations is that the vaccine can not be completely effective for every individual.
“Whether you’re talking about the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine, they both work very well,” said Lawrence. “They have 95% efficacy, basically it provides you with 95% of a protection that you could have against this particular coronavirus, the COVID-19 disease. However, that’s not 100%. People have to keep their mind on that, that for some people, for whatever reason, their immune system doesn’t respond to the vaccine like it otherwise could have, and the end result is that those people are not protected, which means that even though you’ve been vaccinated you should still use the basic protection strategies that we’ve been talking about this entire time.”
“Until we can really get to herd immunity, which is where so many people are vaccinated and/or have a great immune response from having COVID, that the virus really isn’t running around the community anymore, we really have to be very cautious and still take those precautions,” Lawrence concluded.
In order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of others prior to when quicker vaccinations are possible, while also in the midst of a surge throughout LA County, follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines as listed on their website: clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, wash your hands often, stay at least six feet apart from others who don’t live with you, avoid crowds, and wear a mask over your nose and mouth.
In addition to CDC guidelines, doubling up on wearing two masks can further help prevent the spread even more effectively. In a recent interview, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said putting one mask over another “just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.”
“COVID is absolutely real,” Lawrence said. “We have had community members here in Santa Clarita pass away from COVID, and it is something that we have to take seriously because the community as a whole needs to act responsibly so that hopefully we can get this under control.”
If you meet county qualifications to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, go to vaccinatelacounty.com or call (833) 540-0473 on any day of the week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. To take the COVID-19 test, schedule an appointment at https://www.henrymayourgentcare.com/covid19testing
This story inaugurates our coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to cover the conditions caused and worsened by the pandemic, along with the decisions made in response to it as this crisis continues.