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Wendy Lopez gives in-home COVID test kits provided by Los Angeles Unified School District free at Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Los Angeles, California.
Wendy Lopez gives in-home COVID test kits provided by Los Angeles Unified School District free at Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Los Angeles, California. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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LOS ANGELES (Tribune News Service) — With the omicron variant spreading with ferocious speed, Los Angeles County has reached another milestone in the pandemic: more than 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

The county reported 43,582 new cases Monday, with officials saying omicron continues to spread with unprecedented speed. The positivity rate of those who get tested is 21.4%.

And even such large totals are probably an undercount, officials say, as they don't include many of those who may have self-diagnosed using an at-home test.

L.A. County described exceeding the 2 million mark as a "grim milestone." Last week, the county saw more than 250,000 cases in a seven-day period and warned this week of more rapid spread.

Data from the Los Angeles Unified School District on Monday showed a massive spike in active cases among students and staff, with more than 58,000 infections. More than 760 schools reported more than 10 cases, more than 140 reported over 100 cases and six high schools reported more than 300 cases, according to an L.A. Times database of district cases.

About 15% of the more than 400,000 tests submitted between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9 were positive, according to the district's data.

On Monday, California reported 308,820 new infections, a colossal figure that includes data from Saturday and Sunday. State officials said more than 600,000 COVID tests are being reported daily. Total cases have topped 6 million.

California Public Health Director Mark Ghaly said Monday that the omicron variant is continuing to challenge California's health systems and impact communities that already have been hit hard by the pandemic.

"We're experiencing the highest case numbers that we've ever had, above 100,000 cases reported on a daily basis now for the last many days," he said.

The results of more than 600,000 COVID-19 tests are being reported per day, and the state's hospitals are seeing more than 11,000 patients hospitalized because of the disease, Ghaly said.

In total, there are nearly 52,000 patients — both COVID-positive and not — in hospitals across the state.

"When we look at what is happening ... we know hundreds of thousands of Californians [are] becoming infected," he said. "Thankfully, because of the high level of immunity and vaccination protection, the rate of hospitalization is lower, but that's with that sheer number of cases. Even with a lower percentage being hospitalized, it still means quite a bit of work, quite a bit of pressure on our healthcare delivery system."

As of Sunday, 11,048 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized statewide, more than triple the number a month ago.

Despite the rise in cases, fewer people are becoming severely ill from the omicron variant. Even the hospitalization numbers don't tell the whole story, as some counties are seeing a growing percentage of patients entering hospitals with a coronavirus infection but being treated for something other than COVID-19.

"The good news is that while hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID but are identified with COVID when tested for COVID upon hospital admission," L.A. County health officials said in a statement Monday.

Officials urged people to take precautions.

"While it is true that omicron is much more infectious than previous COVID strains, there are many effective strategies available for reducing transmission risks over the next few weeks," Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Monday.

"At the top of the list is avoiding hazardous activities where people are unmasked and in close contact with others. Gatherings should also be postponed for a few weeks, especially if there are participants who are not fully vaccinated, and everyone cannot test before getting together," she added. "Lastly, upgrading masks to those that provide a better barrier against virus particles is a commonsense step that increases our own protection along with those around us."


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