By Jim Holt
Senior Investigative Reporter
Since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, the COVID-19 virus has killed more people in Los Angeles County than coronary heart disease, historically its leading cause of death.
COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the county, public health officials announced Thursday.
On a positive note, the county’s Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer reported Thursday a drop in the number of reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, marking a significant downturn in the pandemic’s winter surge.
“Last week, I announced that after weeks of steep increases, the number of daily reported COVID-19 cases, our test positivity rate and hospitalizations were all declining,” she said during her weekly virtual update.
“Today, I’m pleased to share — that although we have a ways to go to return to pre-surge levels — we continue to see real declines in each of the metrics this week.”
Over the same 22 months since the virus hit, 3,422 pneumonia and influenza deaths were also recorded in the county, a far lower number of deaths when compared to COVID-19 deaths.
In December, 396 people died of COVID-19 compared to 163 deaths from pneumonia or influenza, based on death certificate data.
Despite the availability of vaccines and the dominance of the Omicron virus variant, which public health officials note generally causes less severe disease than prior variants, COVID-19 deaths continue to far outstrip deaths due to other respiratory illness.
Ferrer pointed out, with the help of several graphs, that as the latest surge continues to subside, older and unvaccinated residents are still the ones most at risk of ending up in the intensive care unit or even dying.
“Sadly, we’re not seeing a corresponding decline in reported deaths and each day we’re still losing dozens of people across the county to COVID-19,” she said. “In looking at deaths, we found that unvaccinated individuals had worse outcomes than vaccinated individuals.”
People who were unvaccinated were most likely to require ICU care, Ferrer said in explaining data, adding COVID-19 patients who were fully vaccinated with a booster were least likely to be admitted to the ICU.
For the period ending Jan. 22, residents who were fully vaccinated and had a boost dose were about 31 times less likely to need care in an ICU than those who were not vaccinated. For the period ending Jan. 15, individuals who were fully vaccinated were about 12 times less likely to die from COVID-19 than those who were unvaccinated.
But, Ferrer cautioned, “Post surge does not imply that the pandemic is over.”
Residents in Santa Clarita, and the rest of the county, can expect a break from mask wearing only when the number of COVID-19 daily hospitalizations drops below 2,500 for seven consecutive days.
While the numbers are dropping, there are still many people with COVID-19 in hospitals.
Among all COVID-positive hospitalized patients, 20% required ICU-level care compared to 17% for the week prior, and 14% required ventilation compared to 12% the week prior.
Among COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU, those 65 and older made up the majority at 53%; ages 50-64 were 27%; ages 30-49 were 13%; ages 18-29 were 4%; and those under 18 were 2%.
Fully vaccinated individuals who did not have a booster dose were about eight times less likely to be admitted to an ICU than unvaccinated individuals.
On Thursday, Public Health confirmed 96 additional deaths and 11,548 new cases of COVID-19. Of the 96 new deaths reported, four people were between the ages of 30 and 49, 13 were between the ages of 50 and 64, 35 were between the ages of 65-79, and 41 were over the age of 80.
Of the 96 newly reported deaths, 84 had underlying conditions.
Also on Thursday, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital reported 53 COVID-19 patients remained in the hospital, and one additional death was reported at the hospital, bringing its total to 211 since the onset of the pandemic. The hospital has treated and discharged a total of 2,077 COVID-19 patients.