© Getty ImagesHealth officials estimate one in three LA County residents have been infected by coronavirus
Los Angeles County scientists now estimate that one in three residents have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday.
That would mean at least 3 million of the county's 10 million residents have been infected - more than triple the number confirmed through testing, according to the Times.
"Unfortunately, we are still engaging in behaviors that facilitate spread of the virus, so it is still able to find plenty of susceptible people to infect," Roger Lewis, director of COVID-19 hospital demand modeling for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, told the newspaper.
In order for herd immunity through vaccination to become an effective strategy for controlling the disease, about 75 percent of the county's residents would need to develop immunity, Lewis estimated.
The county has become a hotspot for the coronavirus in a state that leads the nation in infection rates.
As the virus continues to ravage the area, emergency room capacity has dropped to zero percent. Some hospital facilities have resorted to keeping patients in gift shops and other non-designated treatment areas. Ambulances in Los Angeles County were even reportedly told not to transport patients who had a low chance of survival this month in order to conserve oxygen availability as the pandemic worsens.
"The high number of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals is distressing not only for those who have COVID-19, but for all others in the County who need acute care during this time," the county health department said in a statement. "People who have a stroke or heart attack or who experience a traumatic injury from a car crash are finding it more difficult to access care compared to usual times."
As of January 4, the county health department reported that 7,697 people were hospitalized with coronavirus. In early November, that hospitalized figure was 791. By the end of December, the county had reached the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths as a result of the virus.