“It will put a strain on our hospital beds, our ICU beds, and even in Los Angeles County, where we have lots of beds but, we’ll see that surge and encroachment on those beds…” said Dr. LaShonda Spencer DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP

Another 40,000-plus cases of COVID-19 were reported in Los Angeles County today as the easily transmitted Omicron variant of the virus continued to make its impact felt, particularly in hospitals, where patient numbers continue to rise. According to state figures, there were 4,257 COVID-positive people in county hospitals as of Friday, up from 4,175 on Thursday. A total of 600 of those patients were being treated in intensive care, up from 586 a day earlier.

County Department of Public Health officials said the 600 patients represents nearly 25% of all ICU patients in the county, topping the rate seen during the recent COVID infection surge caused by the previous Delta variant. During that summer surge, COVID patients only represented 20% of overall ICU patients. As of Friday, more than 80% of all adult ICU beds in the county were occupied, according to the county.

Overall COVID patient numbers are still well below those seen last winter, when the number topped 8,000, but hospitals are still becoming strained due to severe staffing another other issues that limit the capacity of medical centers to expand their patient space the way they did a year ago. Health officials again urged residents to avoid going to emergency rooms unless absolutely necessary, and not go to the ER to get tested for COVID.

“As Omicron surges across L.A. County, there are mounting challenges and frustrations affecting so many,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “The enormous strain experienced by our health care personnel can be alleviated by reducing the transmission of the virus so that less people are seeking medical care.

“And while it may feel like there isn’t much we can do to keep ourselves and others from getting infected, and that it isn’t a big deal to get infected, neither are an accurate assessment of the current situation,” she said. “Avoiding non-essential activities where the risk for transmission is high because people are crowded together indoors and unmasked will reduce your exposures. Wearing a high grade and well-fitting mask will block COVID virus particles. And given that unvaccinated people are between two and four times more likely to get infected than those vaccinated, getting vaccinated and boosted will lead to less spread.

“With thousands of people seriously ill with COVID and deaths increasing daily, it is too risky for too many people to not continue to take precautions and make strategic decisions to minimize community transmission.” The county reported 48 additional COVID-19 deaths on Friday, raising the overall death toll from the virus to 27,942 since the pandemic began.

The 40,535 new infections announced Friday lifted the county’s overall case total from throughout the pandemic to 2,172,008. The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 19% as of Friday.

Ferrer said Thursday the rise in COVID patients is pushing the county’s overall hospital patient population to levels rivaling those during last winter’s case surge. She said the daily overall patient census — both COVID and non-COVID — was about 15,000 in the county, close to last winter’s peak of 16,500. She also noted that rising hospitalizations are a natural consequence of rising case numbers, as are deaths, which are likely to keep increasing, even after infection figures begin declining.

Ferrer again urged residents to avoid dangerous activities in the coming weeks, particularly those that are indoors and involve mingling with unvaccinated or higher-risk people. She also stressed that while the Omicron variant is easily capable of infecting vaccinated people, the shots are still proving to be effective in preventing infected people from winding up hospitalized.

She called on residents to get vaccinated and obtain booster shots; wear upgraded masks such as N95, KN95 or KF94 varieties; and get tested, saying the county dramatically expanded testing availability after shortages two weeks ago that led to long lines at some test centers.

As of Sunday, 80% of eligible county residents aged 5 and up have received at least one vaccine dose, and 72% are fully vaccinated. Of the county’s overall population of 10.3 million people, 76% have one dose, and 68% are fully vaccinated.