Health

More than 4,000 in L.A. County dead of COVID-19 since New Year’s Day


The chance that a person hospitalized for COVID-19 will die in L.A. County has doubled in recent months.

According to an analysis by the L.A. County Department of Health Services, in September and October, there was about 1 in 8 chance for patients hospitalized for COVID-19 to die. But since November, the chance of dying for those hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased to about 1 in 4.

Of the more than 14,000 L.A. County residents who have so far died from COVID-19, more than 4,000 deaths have been reported since New Year’s Day.

Dr. Roger Lewis, director of COVID-19 hospital demand modeling for the L.A. County Department of Health Services, said the increased chance of dying is a result of hospitals being so crowded that only the sickest patients are being admitted to the hospital.

Because the population of COVID-19 patients in the hospital are now uniformly more severely ill, that means a greater percentage of them is more likely to die.

“During the current surge, while hospitals are critically overcrowded … clinicians are being extremely judicious in their decisions to hospitalize patients,” Lewis said.

“The current data suggests that only patients who are quite ill and clearly require acute hospitalization are being admitted. And it is likely that a greater fraction of patients are being sent home with instructions to return to the hospital should their illness worsen,” Lewis said.

When hospitals are less in crisis, like they were in September and October, hospitals are more likely to admit people into the facility who are on the tipping point of needing hospitalization.

Here’s a rundown of how the makeup of COVID-19 hospitalized patients has changed between September and October, when the pandemic was less overwhelming, to the period that began in November, where the pandemic has been in a surge.

Between Sept. 4 and Nov. 3, the hospital resources required on average for each COVID-19 patient were:

• Days in the hospital: 6.93
• Days in the intensive care unit: 2.09
• Days on mechanical ventilation: 1.16

Since Nov. 3, the hospital resources required on average for each COVID-19 patient were:

• Days in the hospital: 9.49
• Days in the ICU: 2.38
• Days on mechanical ventilation: 1.89

The actual care a particular patient needs can vary widely. For instance, some patients may require no care in the ICU while others may require weeks in the ICU on mechanical ventilation, in which a patient struggling to breathe is generally sedated and has a breathing tube inserted through the mouth into the trachea, and hooked up to a machine that does the work of breathing for them.

Daily deaths remain extraordinarily high in L.A. County, which has resulted in the National Guard being called in to help overloaded hospital morgues by taking bodies to the county coroner’s office for storage until funeral homes and mortuaries can process the backlog. Local air quality officials were forced to suspend monthly limits on the number of cremations to avoid a public health crisis.

The current death rate 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,” the South Coast Air Quality Management District said Sunday.

The air quality agency said that as of Friday, more than 2,700 bodies were being stored at hospitals and the coroner’s offices.

In the previous surges, L.A. County’s average daily COVID-19 death toll topped out at 50 deaths reported a day, an average reported in mid-April. But the current wave has been far worse, with the average daily death toll peaking at 241 deaths a day for the seven-day period that ended on Jan. 14.

The average daily death tally has fallen modestly since then, and now averages 206 deaths a day for the week-long period that ended Wednesday.

Still, there are days when the death toll reaches high numbers. On Wednesday, local health jurisdictions in L.A. County reported 294 COVID-19 deaths, one of the highest single-day tallies of the entire pandemic. The record number of deaths reported in a single day is 318, which was reported on both Jan. 8 and Jan. 12.

Times staff writer Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report.




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