LOS ANGELES, CA - Angelenos have heard it before: there's light at the end of the tunnel, but the surge will get worse before it gets better.
Across the state, the effective transmission rate Thursday was 0.77. Anything less than 1 means the average person is transmitting the virus to less than one person, and the spread of the coronavirus may soon slow. Though COVID cases may be peaking in Los Angeles, hospitalizations, deaths are still climbing, however. And pediatric COVID hospitalizations in Los Angeles are at an all-time high.
On Thursday, the county reported another 102 deaths - the highest daily number reported by the county since last March and double the totals just one week earlier.
Most of those COVID deaths are likely Omicron cases, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. According to Ferrer, 90% of the deaths reported Thursday involved people who fell ill from COVID after Dec. 24, "indicating the high likelihood of infection with the Omicron variant."
Health officials have said about 90% of the COVID deaths during the pandemic occurred in people who had underlying health conditions. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Of the 102 deaths reported Thursday, 81 had underlying conditions.
The fatalities lifted the county's virus-related death toll to 28,282.
Ferrer warned that LA may not have seen the worst of the Omicron surge yet.
"I don't think we're yet on the downslope," Ferrer told the Los Angeles Times Thursday. "I'm hopeful that we're plateauing, but we'll know more by the weekend as we follow the data for the rest of this week."
Health officials are also closely monitoring pediatric hospitalizations. The Times reported that Children's Hospital Los Angeles had 59 COVID-19 patients Thursday, a pandemic high. Roughly 1 in 5 Children's Hospital COVID patients require intensive care treatment, and 51% of the children tested at the hospital for coronavirus this month have tested positive, the newspaper reported.
Overall, however, there is reason to hope the surge is peaking.
"While case numbers and test positivity are extraordinarily high, there are small decreases from last week," Ferrer said during a media videoconference. "The average daily new case rate is now at about 33,000 cases a day. Test positivity decreased slightly this past week to approximately 17%, meaning that nearly one in six people getting tested is infected with COVID. The seven-day average daily case rate also dropped a bit to about 350 new cases per 100,000 residents.
"While these small decreases may indicate that we're no longer seeing exponential growth in transmission, we're still experiencing the highest rate of spread for this entire pandemic," Ferrer said. "And with so many cases, our hospital numbers remain elevated, with 4,814 people currently hospitalized. This is the highest number of daily hospitalizations for COVID since last winter's surge."
Ferrer said the increased number of COVID patients is causing strain at hospitals, even though roughly half of them were admitted for reasons other than the virus and only discovered they were infected when they were admitted.
"Regardless of their reason for hospitalization, all COVID-positive patients require resource-intensive precautions that place additional strain our health-care system, particularly in the setting of the current staff shortages," she said.
The 4,814 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals was up from 4,799 on Wednesday. Of those patients, 723 were being treated in intensive care units, up from 700 a day earlier.
The county on Thursday also reported another 42,115 new infections, giving the county a pandemic total of 2,385,721. The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 17.5% as of Thursday.
According to the county, 81% of eligible county residents aged 5 and above have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 72% are fully vaccinated. Only 31% are fully vaccinated with a booster shot. Of the county's overall 10.3 million population, 76% have received one dose, 68% are fully vaccinated, and 29% are vaccinated and boosted.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on the Los Angeles Patch