LOS ANGELES -- A special task force of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department conducted raids on five New Year's Eve "super-spreader'' parties across the county, making over 90 arrests and taking seven handguns off the streets, officials said Friday.
The raids included two in Los Angeles, one in Malibu and more, LASD Sgt. Bob Boese said. The locations raided included rented homes, vacant warehouses, hotels and shuttered businesses.
Overall, 90 adults were arrested and cited for violations of the county's Safer At Home order to stem the surge in COVID-19 cases, Boese continued. One person was arrested for alleged possession of narcotics and a loaded firearm. Over 900 people were warned and advised of the updated safer-at-home order. Deputies recovered five handguns from the event in Hawthorne, officials said.
"I have made it clear that we will seek out and take law enforcement action against all super spreader events occurring anywhere within Los Angeles County,'' Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. "The goal of these enforcement actions is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the risk to our vulnerable populations.''
Los Angeles County reported another 20,414 new cases of COVID-19 and 207 additional deaths Friday, although 40 of the deaths were from a backlog associated with a Spectrum outage and holiday reporting delays.
The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals rose to 7,613, the highest number seen during the pandemic, with 21% of those people in intensive care units.
Conditions continue to worsen at hospitals in the county, with ambulances waiting up to eight hours to off-load patients, leading to a shortage of paramedic crews on the streets and longer 911 response times.
Amid the unfolding disaster, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is sending experts to help with the oxygen delivery systems at six of the county's older hospitals, state officials announced Friday.
"The current surge of patients ... it's kind of a hidden disaster,'' Cathy Chidester, director of the county Emergency Medical Services agency, said earlier this week. "It's not a fire. It's not an earthquake. It's not a train wreck that's right in the public view and they can see what is happening and they can avoid that area. It's all happening behind the doors of households and hospitals. So nobody is really, the general public, is not really seeing what is going on.''
Chidester said there are reports of hospitals being so overwhelmed that ambulances are waiting seven or eight hours in emergency bays, forcing patients to be treated in the ambulance. But more importantly, the delay is keeping the ambulances out of service, leaving them unable to respond to additional emergency medical calls, she said.
"We're running out of ambulances, and our response to 911 calls is getting longer and longer,'' Chidester said.
She said in the Antelope Valley, the county is using ambulances and ambulance companies "that are not traditionally 911-response ambulances'' just to keep up with the demand.
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Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director, has said that some hospitals' pipes cannot maintain sufficient pressure and might even freeze.
The military experts will oversee any upgrades deemed necessary at the affected hospitals.
L.A. County launched a New Year's Day #Every10Minutes Twitter campaign highlighting the deadly toll of the pandemic.
A tweet every 10 minutes honors someone who has died from COVID-19.
The campaign comes as many people ignored pleas to stay home on New Year's Eve, with a number of public gatherings held across Southern California.
Few wore masks in Point Mugu where actor Kirk Cameron hosted another maskless gathering on Thursday, with groups of people seen on the beach for a faith-based event.
It was a similar scene over in Valencia, where hundreds packed a parking lot to ring in the new year. Few who attended the outdoor concert, hosted by Christian activist Sean Feucht, at Higher Vision Church wore masks or physically distanced.
Car enthusiasts gathered in Pasadena for their annual New Year's Eve Rose Parade cruise, even though the world-famous show had been canceled.
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The most recent figures from the county showed a total of 773 available and staffed hospital beds, including just 57 adult ICU beds. Those numbers change rapidly throughout the day.
With increased hospitalizations come increased deaths, and the county on Thursday reported a record 290 fatalities -- though some of those deaths were attributed to the reporting backlog dating back to the Christmas holiday weekend. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted that 86% of people who have died from COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions, down from more than 90% in the early days of the pandemic.
That drop "indicates that, in fact, there are more people than ever not only passing away, but passing away without any underlying health conditions.''
Nearly 4,737,000 individuals had been tested as of Friday, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, with 16% of people testing positive.
The county's coronavirus toll now stands at 790,582 cases and 10,552 fatalities.
"These trends will continue into January, and if we do nothing, definitely beyond," Ferrer said.
City News Service contributed to this report.