The health department said it believed the more contagious UK variant was likely already spreading in the community and urged residents to “more diligently” follow safety measures.
“The presence of the UK variant in Los Angeles County is troubling, as our healthcare system is already severely strained with more than 7,500 people currently hospitalized,” said health department director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.
“Our community is bearing the brunt of the winter surge, experiencing huge numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, five-times what we experienced over the summer.
“This more contagious variant makes it easier for infections to spread at worksites, at stores, and in our homes. We are in the midst of a public health emergency so please do everything you can to protect yourselves and those you love,” Ferrer said.
L.A. County’s case total surpasses that of Illinois’ Cook County (429,270 cases) and Arizona’s Maricopa County (407,631 cases) combined, according to John Hopkins University data.
Cook and Maricopa counties currently have the nation’s second and third highest tally of cases, respectively, JHU data shows.
“There are currently 7,597 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19, and 22% of these people are in the ICU,” L.A. County Public Health said in its release.
‘Waking up to a nightmare every day’
Los Angeles City Fire spokesman David Ortiz spoke to CNN at the Dodger Stadium where vaccines were being administered Saturday.
Ortiz said the situation in Los Angeles was “surreal.”
“It feels like you’re waking up to a nightmare, every day. We are trying to make a dent in this huge pandemic of people that are getting sick, hearing how many people are dying every day, it’s, it’s unfathomable,” he said.
“We on our fire department have lost two of our members — two valuable members — to this disease, and so it hits home watching the nurses pleading with people to stay home, to not have these parties.
“It’s, it’s heartbreaking to see them work themselves to exhaustion and continue to come in every day — every day — and put on their game face and go to work on all these people — taking care of all these people.”
Ortiz said a lot of the deaths from Covid-19 were unnecessary but that the vaccination program provided hope.
“Because every person that gets vaccinated, that’s an opportunity of a person that may be saved by that vaccine. And that’s one less person that’s going to become a victim to this virus,” he said.
Coronavirus has already infected and killed more people in the US than in any other country.
CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.