1 in 80 L.A. County Residents Has COVID, Health Officials Blame Thanksgiving

Los Angeles County health officials on Wednesday said one in every 80 county residents is believed to be infected with COVID-19 as transmission rates continue rising in the aftermath of Thanksgiving.

The county's health officials issued stark warnings against future holiday gatherings as California became the first U.S. state to report more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day. As California's total case count climbed past 1.6 million this week, health officials said Los Angeles County had a total of 539,097 cases—not including those reported in Long Beach or Pasadena—and 8,127 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

According to county health officials, the recent surge in new cases is a result of residents ignoring recommendations to stay home over the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We're experiencing an explosive and very deadly surge, and there's urgency in our request that everyone do all that's in their power to slow transmission and prevent additional suffering," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer with the Los Angeles County Health Agency said during a Wednesday news conference. Ferrer said COVID-19 hospitalizations in Los Angeles County had increased by about 385 percent since early November, resulting in hospital capacities "decreasing to alarming levels." On average, two county residents are dying from COVID-19 every hour, she said.

Los Angeles coronavirus spread
Los Angeles County health officials estimated on Wednesday that one in 80 county residents have contracted COVID-19. In the photo above, people wait in line at a COVID-19 testing center in Los Angeles, California, on December 8, 2020. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

"We have learned a hard and painful lesson from our actions over Thanksgiving. Please, let's not repeat the same mistakes as we move into our next holiday season," Ferrer said.

Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly with the Los Angeles County Health Agency said during the news conference that reducing COVID-19 spread throughout the county will take "immense erfort."

"Slowing the spread of a virus when one in every 1,000 are infected and infecting others is a very different story and astronomically easier than slowing the spread of virus when one in every 80 people are infected and infecting others," Ghaly said. "And that latter situation, one in 80, is where we are at today."

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a new stay-at-home order earlier this month that each of the state's five regions were to fall under once their ICU capacities dropped below 15 percent. Southern California was quick to fall under the new order due to its virus spread and was at 1.7 percent ICU capacity by Tuesday.

In anticipation of new surges in COVID-19 deaths, Newsom said earlier this week that the state ordered thousands of body bags to be delivered to a handful of Southern California counties, including Los Angeles. Estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggest California could more than double its total COVID-19 deaths by the spring, with health officials throughout the state expected to report as many as 54,000 by early April.

"We cannot afford to see another holiday surge that will overwhelm our already strained hospital system," the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a Wednesday tweet. "Please, stay home as much as possible, wear your face coverings and don't gather."

We cannot afford to see another holiday surge that will overwhelm our already strained hospital system. Please, stay home as much as possible, wear your face coverings and don’t gather. pic.twitter.com/RGW4hbWWVB

— LA Public Health (@lapublichealth) December 16, 2020

The Los Angeles County Department of Health reiterated Ferrer's earlier statements when Newsweek contacted the department for further comment.

"Please cancel holiday plans that involve travel or gathering with friends and family that are not part of your household," Ferrer said Wednesday. "I've heard from many people who have postponed travel plans and are staying home. I'm encouraged to hear that big holiday parties are being cancelled. That's the smart thing to do. It's simply too risky to mingle with others from outside your household."