The Year in COVID: A Look at the Pandemic in L.A. During 2021

A month-by-month rundown of the frightening peaks and the times that life looked almost normal

When 2021 dawned, Los Angeles was immersed in a wave of misery and death as COVID-19 rampaged across the region. As the year comes to an end, the coronavirus is again spreading, though the situation is different, with a dangerous new variant, but also widespread vaccinations and fewer deaths. Here is a month-by-month look at our COVID year, complete with moments when we thought “normal” was near.

More than 20,000 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Jan. 1, and the month was dominated by reports of strained medical facilities and funeral parlors unable to handle the surge of bodies. The 8,098 people hospitalized on Jan. 8 was a pandemic peak; that same day, 318 people died. Cases began to tick down toward the end of the month, just as Angelenos began clamoring for a limited supply of vaccines that were reserved mostly for healthcare workers and senior citizens. On Jan. 28, county officials allowed outdoor dining spots to reopen, with a variety of safety measures.
Case Count: Los Angeles County recorded 346,290 new cases during the month, and 6,425 deaths, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The horrors of January eased somewhat, with daily case counts dropping below 2,000, and 1,661 hospitalizations on Feb. 28. Yet concerns remained, particularly about a new U.K. variant. Attention increasingly turned to vaccinations, and though supply was tight, “vaccine chasers” began showing up at inoculation sites, hoping to score leftover doses at the close of the day. By the end of the month, nearly 2 million vaccinations had been administered. There were even hints of normality, with the county allowing outdoor youth and adult sports on Feb. 26.
Case Count: 75,931 new cases and 4,558 deaths.

As vaccination supplies increased, local health and political leaders stepped up efforts to ensure that residents of low-income communities also got their shots; by the end of March, 4 million doses had gone into the arms of county residents, and 1.3 million people had received a second jab. Daily case numbers were below 1,000 in the latter half of the month, and just 638 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized on March 31. A milestone occurred on March 15 when the county hit measuring sticks allowing gyms, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses to reopen (though at limited capacity).
Case Count: 27,639 new cases and 1,815 deaths.

As the month began, vaccine eligibility expanded, with people 50 and up able to get a shot. Two weeks later, anyone 16 and older could get jabbed, and by April 30 more than 2.5 million people had received a second dose. Daily case counts were below 500 throughout the month, and on April 30 just 420 people were hospitalized. The progress prompted more re-openings; on April 5, bars began serving again (with patrons masked and social distancing), and restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses could increase capacity. A limited number of fans filed into Dodger Stadium on April 9, and a week later people could watch games at Staples Center. The happiest people may have been parents, as LAUSD schools allowed students back onto campus for the final few weeks of the academic year. Actually, others might have been happier—Disneyland reopened on April 30.
Case Count: 13,498 new cases and 747 deaths.

Los Angeles almost seemed back to normal, with the test positivity rate under 1% all month, and just 258 COVID-19 patients hospitalized on May 30. Bars, movie theaters and other businesses were allowed to increase capacity on May 6. Six days later, vaccine eligibility was expanded to people ages 12-15. In the effort to spur even more inoculations, lotteries were introduced, among them a state effort, championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, with $1.5 million cash prizes. On May 24, county officials announced that 50% of those 16 and up were fully vaccinated, though figures for Back and Latino residents trailed that of white and Asian inhabitants.
Case Count: 10,822 new cases and 449 deaths.

The county, like the rest of California, fully reopened on June 15, and most mask requirements were lifted. Capacity crowds filled Dodger Stadium and Staples Center, and as schools let out, summer camps welcomed eager kids. By the end of the month more than 5.3 million people were fully protected. Almost overlooked amid all the glee was a June 19 Public Health department press release that mentioned, for the first time, a highly transmissible coronavirus variant known as Delta. Nine days later, the department recommended indoor masking as a precaution.
Case Count: 6,358 new cases and 144 deaths.

Angelenos enjoyed July 4th fireworks and attended summer barbecues, but the combination of Delta and relaxed restrictions led to a fourth wave of the virus; the number of new cases in July was almost eight times the June total, though with most older people fully vaccinated, cases rose quickest among those 18-49. The surge prompted an order for the resumption of indoor masking at all public venues and offices. Meanwhile, there were disturbing reports that significant numbers of L.A. police and firefighters were opting not to get vaccinated.
Case Count: 50,073 new cases and 199 cases.

The fourth wave of COVID-19 crested as hospitalizations surpassed 1,700 in the latter half of the month. A heightened effort to spur vaccinations took hold, and on Aug. 12 the county ordered healthcare workers to be inoculated. The following day, health providers began offering booster doses for the immunocompromised. Hundreds of thousands of LAUSD students returned to campus for the new academic year on Aug. 16—many for the first time in 17 months—though masks were required. The school district also began testing every student and staff member each week.
Case Count: 107,004 new cases and 602 deaths.

Cases and hospitalizations declined from their Delta highs, but the battle over vaccination mandates heated up, with some Los Angeles police and firefighter groups challenging the requirements in courts. On Sept. 21, Angelenos attending large indoor events were required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. On Sept. 23, anyone 65 and over became eligible for a booster dose.
Case Count: 51,865 new cases and 822 deaths.

Daily case and hospitalization numbers never fell to their pre-Delta lows, but a steady decrease put many at ease. A new normal took hold on Oct. 7, as anyone entering an indoor bar or nightclub in the county had to show proof of at least one vaccination. By the end of the month, health leaders were recommending booster shots for anyone 65 and up, and those who worked in a high-risk setting. By Oct. 31, 6.4 million county residents were fully vaccinated, and Halloween parties were on. COVID-19 seemed, again, to be somewhat under control.
Case Count: 33,988 new cases and 531 deaths.

Progress continued, with a generally manageable daily case count of under 1,000, and hospitalizations for most of the month remained in the vicinity of 600. Vaccinations for the 5-11 set began on Nov. 3, and overall inoculations slowly increased. While some vociferously resisted, all adults became eligible for boosters on Nov. 19. Angelenos seemed to have reached an uneasy truce with COVID-19, and families and friends came together for Thanksgiving celebrations. Thanksgiving also happened to be the day that reports of a new variant, dubbed Omicron, emerged.
Case Count: 33,962 new cases and 529 deaths.

Any sense of progress has been blown out of the water, and though hospitalizations are just a fraction of what they were when 2021 began, the Omicron variant, plus lingering Delta strains and cold weather that pushed people indoors, have produced the highest COVID-19 figures since last winter, including 16,510 new cases on Wednesday. Local health and political officials continue to urge everyone to get their shots. But despite the pleas, just 70% of eligible county residents are fully vaccinated.
Case Count (through Dec. 29): 122,244 new cases and 435 deaths.