Workplace outbreaks of Covid-19 have increased dramatically in recent weeks in response to increased transmission in the community, Los Angeles County health officials said today, warning employers must ensure that their workers and customers are protected.
“We have a problem with the transmission of Covid-19 on construction sites across the county,” said director of public health Barbara Ferrer. “As the percentage of people who are HIV positive for COVID-19 increases, there is simply a much larger pool of infected people walking around, often without symptoms, who are now exposing an increasing percentage of people to the virus.”
She said within a month, outbreaks in general workplaces – including warehouses, manufacturing facilities and logistics companies – went from an average of nine per week to 44 per week. Schools and daycares have also seen the outbreaks triple. Ferrer noted that most of them were “small and well contained”, but that they involved “dozens of employees and a small number of students”.
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These outbreaks reflected a continued increase in cases across the county. Health officials on Wednesday reported 218 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll from the virus to 12,955. They also announced 14,564 new cases, bringing the cumulative number since the start of the pandemic to 958,497.
Ferrer noted that average daily new cases have increased 1,092% since November, average daily deaths have increased 1,133% and hospitalizations have increased 875%.
She said the county was also bracing for the likelihood that a new variant of Covid-19 first discovered in the UK – called B.1.1.7 – would occur locally.
“According to the latest scientific data available, the UK variant doesn’t make people sicker, but it is more transmissible, which means it can be spread more easily,” Ferrer said. “Current expert projections predict that if left unchecked, this variant could dominate locally by March.”
When asked if he was concerned about B.1.1.7, California Director of Health and Human Services Dr Mark Ghaly replied, “Absolutely, we are concerned about this. I think we have 38 confirmed cases … if that takes off, we’re going to see even more widespread transmission than we are currently doing. I think the rate pass will be much harder to contain if we see more of this B.1.1.7 variant. “
With the variant’s ability to move quickly from person to person, Ferrer said people must continue to take all necessary precautions, not ruling out the need for stricter regulations to control the spread.
Ferrer and Director of Health Services Dr. Christina Ghaly again noted that hospitalizations appear to be leveling off at just under 8,000 patients per day on average. State figures reported 7,906 people hospitalized with Covid-19 on Wednesday, including 1,699 in intensive care.
The record number of patients linked to the pandemic in the county was well over 8,000 last week.
“While the numbers have peaked at that number just below 8,000, they have stabilized at a rate that is really not sustainable,” said Ghaly of Los Angeles.
“This high plateau does not leave enough beds open to treat patients without Covid. And that still doesn’t allow us to prepare for an additional attack of patients who could present themselves over the next two weeks in a possible post-vacation flare.
Ghaly said hospitals in Los Angeles have yet to start seeing the results of the rallies and virus transmission that likely occurred over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
“Even as the slight decline continues, we are far from being in the clear in the LA County hospital system,” she said. “Hospitals cannot maintain the high level of beds occupied by COVID patients.”
She added, “For there to be meaningful relief for health care providers, we need a rapid and significant drop in hospitalizations for a period of one to two months. Please don’t let this current number of daily hospitalizations seem normal just because it is leveling off. “
“We should be prepared to do more if cases remain high,” she said. “The work ahead requires us to take all necessary measures to reduce transmission.”
City News Service contributed to this report.