First published in the Jan. 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
County data appears to show that more Burbank residents are testing positive for the coronavirus, on average, than during any previous surge.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that more than 370 Burbank residents tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, by far the most the city had ever seen in one day. The seven-day average for cases was also record high of about 243 per day on Wednesday, the county’s most recent reporting day as of the Leader’s press deadline. Officials recorded similarly record-breaking numbers for L.A. County as a whole.
At the end of November, Burbank’s seven-day average for daily coronavirus cases was just eight cases a day. The newest reports surpass even the previous peak of about 110 cases a day, reported during the winter surge in early 2021.
The majority of new cases in the county are of the Omicron variant, according to public health department officials. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has explained that while scientists are still learning about the variant, it appears to spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. Many researchers have also reported that Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant, which is already more transmissible than the original virus.
Burbank emergency management coordinator Eric Baumgardner told the City Council this week that the Omicron variant is one major factor behind the current surge, while others likely include holiday travel and fewer restrictive health orders being in place.
The County health department reported nearly 15,000 cumulative coronavirus cases and 268 deaths in Burbank as of Wednesday.
“During this surge, given the spread of a more infectious strain of the virus, lapses can lead to explosive transmission,” Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Public Health director, said in a statement on Sunday.
“Well-fitting and high-quality masks are an essential layer of protection when people are in close contact with others, especially when indoors or in outdoor crowded spaces where distancing is not possible. Although masks can be annoying and even uncomfortable for some, given that many infected individuals are spreading COVID one to two days before they are symptomatic, the physical barrier tendered by a mask is known to reduce the spread of virus particles.”
Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 have increased in recent weeks, though not to the point seen during previous surges.
Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center had about 36 adults who were hospitalized with — though not necessarily because of — COVID-19 during the week ending Dec. 24, according to the most recent data available from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. That figure was up from about 14 such adults in late November, but significantly lower than the nearly 150 patients the last week of December 2020.
Courtnay Caulfield, chief nursing officer at the medical center, said that the vaccine — which was not available to most people during last winter’s wave — has helped keep people out of intensive care units, though she said her staff has seen a “significant number” of both patients and workers testing positive for the coronavirus.
About 81.7% of Burbank residents aged 5 and older have received at least one vaccine dose as of the end of 2021, according to L.A. County public health department data. Nearly 75% had been fully vaccinated, while about 32% had gotten a booster shot. More than 75% of the county population had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Hospital systems have been struggling with a nursing shortage for some time, Caulfield explained, and many staff members at the Burbank medical center are isolating after contracting the virus. Officials have canceled non-critical meetings and pivoted some workers to fill certain roles, but many community members are still coming to Providence Saint Joseph’s emergency for non-emergency needs, she said.
“Our ask to the public is, unless you need emergency care, just be mindful with where you’re going with your testing,” Caulfield added.
The chief nursing officer also thanked the community for supporting the medical center’s medical staff. Administrators understand that the nurses and clinicians are “the backbone of health care,” she said, and try to ensure they take care of themselves emotionally and spiritually.
“Our big message to them right now is … sleep when you can, because this is a marathon — it’s not a race,” Caulfield said.
— Oscar Areliz contributed to this report