The dreaded post-Christmas spike in coronavirus cases appears to be materializing in Los Angeles County, with a new rise in cases as hospitals are already in crisis from the Thanksgiving surge.
Los Angeles County posted its third highest single-day total for coronavirus cases on New Year’s Day, reporting 19,063 cases. That means that over the last seven days, there has been an average of more than 16,000 new coronavirus cases a day reported in the county — about 12 times bigger than the comparable figure from Nov. 1 and the highest figure ever recorded.
The county had seen particularly aggressive growth in daily coronavirus cases in mid-December, but then saw new cases flatten over the last week and a half, generally adding on average 13,000 to 14,800 new cases a day.
The tally reported Friday pushed the average number of new daily coronavirus cases over the last week to 16,077 — precisely around the same time that epidemiologists warned that people infected around the Christmas holiday would begin to become infectious.
The county also posted a high death toll Friday — 193 deaths, the fourth-highest single day death toll. New Year’s Day followed three consecutive days of record deaths reported in one day — 242 on Tuesday, 262 on Wednesday and 291 on Thursday. Combined, 988 deaths were reported in this four-day period.
Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, medical epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said Saturday he believed the new high in the daily average number of coronavirus cases is the beginning of the surge in coronavirus cases from the Christmas holiday.
Kim-Farley said he expects there will be increasingly larger numbers of daily coronavirus cases over the next two weeks as people exposed to the virus over Christmas and New Year’s fall ill and get tested.
Kim-Farley said he expects the hospitals to be at their peak crisis by the end of January. The daily number of COVID-19 deaths is then expected to peak by mid-February.
“Given that persons will, hopefully, be traveling less and having fewer gatherings in their homes after these recent back-to-back holiday celebrations … we should begin to see some downturns in the disease rates by the end of January,” Kim-Farley said.
The number of daily coronavirus cases in the late winter should also begin to fall because a large number of people who end up surviving the coronavirus infection will develop immunity to the virus, Kim-Farley said.
This level of protection won’t work to result in full “herd immunity” that protects the full population, but “it should result in decreased numbers of new cases in those who are not following public health guidance on masking and physical distancing,” Kim-Farley said.
It will only be when 70% to 85% of the population has received the vaccine, which Kim-Farley estimates will occur by early summer, that “true herd immunity will begin to be reflected in a more rapid drop in the numbers of new…