Los Angeles has become the first US county to report more than 1 million coronavirus cases, according to state officials.
Some 14,669 new cases were added Saturday taking the county’s total to 1,003,923 cases and 13,741 confirmed virus-related deaths – 253 reported on Saturday, Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health said in a news release.
The department also announced its first confirmed case of the UK Covid-19 B.1.1.7 variant Saturday, in a male who had traveled to L.A. County but is now isolating in Oregon.
‘Brunt of the winter surge’
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.
The census bureau says L.A. County is the most populous county in the nation with about 10.1 million residents, followed by Cook County (5.2 million), Harris County in Texas (4.5 million) and Maricopa County (4.2 million).
‘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.
There were 198,218 new cases of Covid-19 and 3,286 new deaths from the virus reported in the US on Saturday, according to John Hopkins University, taking the US totals to at least 23.7 million cases and 395,785 deaths.
At least 31.1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been distributed across the US and at least 12.2 million of them have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.