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'Every 5 minutes, somebody is dying of COVID in LA County': county chief medical officer

Akiko Fujita
·Anchor/Reporter
·3 min read

The alarming spread of COVID-19 is now killing one Los Angeles County resident every five minutes.

The sobering statistic from the chief medical officer of the nation’s most populous county comes as it surpasses another grim milestone in the pandemic: more than 13,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

“It’s really unbelievable,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live. “During the last 10 days, our 85 or so hospitals have had about 8,000 people in the hospital every day with COVID. We're working with them to figure out how can we expand care, how can we make sure people who really need care are getting it.”

That task is increasingly being tested, as hospitals struggle to care for patients, with little to no capacity in their intensive care units. The county has gone from 800 COVID-related patients to 8,000 hospitalizations in just two months.

At least one hospital in the county is reporting 320% occupancy, while others have converted gift shops into critical care centers to keep up with demand. Emergency care physician Dr. Jennifer Ellice told Yahoo Finance, some patients are waiting as long as nine hours to be admitted, as hospitals scramble to secure oxygen supply.

“Things are very dire and I don’t think it’s overblown to compare this to wartime medicine at this point,” she said.

New modeling done by the Los Angeles County Health Services estimates one in three Angelenos have been infected with the virus, since the beginning of the pandemic.

People wait in line for entry to Covid-19 antibody testing offered for free at the Destiny Community Church International in Whittier, California on January 13, 2021. - The post-holiday surge is shaping up across California some two weeks into the new year as Covid-19 deaths continue to rise in Los Angeles County. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
People wait in line for entry to Covid-19 antibody testing offered for free at the Destiny Community Church International in Whittier, California on January 13, 2021. - The post-holiday surge is shaping up across California some two weeks into the new year as Covid-19 deaths continue to rise in Los Angeles County. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Gunzenhauser said the county is looking to utilize nursing care facilities, to take on patients in need of lower level care, to help relieve hospitals. It’s also speaking with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to consider additional restrictions to limit the pace of infections, he said. While outdoor dining and schools remain closed, retail stores and malls continue to operate at reduced capacity. Film and commercial shoots have also been allowed to continue, though the Department of Health has discouraged them.

“We go out and visit those sites to make sure that they are following the rules. The most important thing is people do follow the rules of wearing face coverings and socially distancing these infections can be prevented,” Gunzenhauser said. “When we do go out we do find a very high level of compliance. Anybody who is totally out of compliance, we will close.”

Vaccine ‘mega pods’

The county has begun rolling out vaccine “mega pods” at five locations, including Dodger Stadium, where Gunzenhauser said health care workers will be able to administer an additional 20,000 vaccinations every day. That puts the county on track to achieve its goal of inoculating half a million health care and nursing care professionals in the next 17 days

While the state of California has expanded its vaccination guidelines to include residents 65 and older, Gunzenhauser said those patients are not expected to get those doses until next month in Los Angeles County because the supply isn’t there.

“As of last week, we have been provided, just under 500,000 doses of vaccines. With over 10 million people in LA County, we’re the most populous county in the nation. We need 20 million doses,” he said. “That means as of last week we had only received a little under two and a half percent of what we need.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita