After warnings from state and local officials last week about increasing transmission of coronavirus, Los Angeles County On Wednesday reported its highest daily number of new infections in six weeks.
Public health director Barbara Ferrer said the one-day spike — 1,645 new cases — should not immediately sound alarms. The region last saw a number of new infections that high on Aug. 22.
“While one day of a high number of cases does not indicate a trend, this is something we need to watch closely,” Ferrer said. But it’s not just one day.
While Ferrer admitted that the Los Angeles did not see the much-feared post-Labor Day spike in cases, she did announce two weeks ago what she called “an increase in cases last week.”
What’s more, on that same day County Health Officer Dr. Christina Ghaly said that the “R” number was greater that one for the first time in weeks. That number indicates how many additional people are getting the virus for every person infected. If R is over 1, then the virus us spreading.
“R has increased to just above 1,” announced Ghaly, “at 1.02 It indicates that transmission is increasing over time.” At that point, the daily new case count was around 1200. Now it’s up above 1600.
Late last week, R came down to an even 1.0 in L.A. But Ghaly also announced at that point that county models show the number of hospitalizations rising in coming weeks. Within the next month she said, “additional ICU beds may be needed” for coronavirus patients. Luckily, given the current low rate of occupancy, “hospitals are able to flex their ICU beds up and down,” she observed. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have begun to creep up this week.
Ferrer reported last week that, “There is a small increase in cases that may either reflect either lower testing numbers at the beginning of the month or they may reflect that we’re starting to see some small increases in community transmission.”
On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a warning along those lines.
“You’re starting to see an increase in COVID cases across the country,” the governor observed. “You’re seeing this not just across the country, you’re seeing this across the world.” Newsom then reported that 21 states across the U.S. are seeing increases.
“This is the second wave,” he said starkly, referring to the feared resurgence of coronavirus, which has been expected to see another spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
On Wednesday, two staffers in Governor Newsom’s office tested positive.
L.A. county has been struggling to lower its daily case numbers in hopes of moving out of the most restrictive tier of the state’s four-level economic reopening matrix, which would allow more businesses to reopen. While the county’s recent testing positivity rate, currently 2.8%, actually qualifies the county to move up two steps in the matrix, the rate of new cases per 100,000 residents continues to remain elevated, currently averaging 7.4, a slight increase from last week.
The county’s average new case rate needs to fall to 7 per 100,000 residents in order to move out of the state’s restrictive “Purple” tier. That equates to roughly 700 new cases per day — well below the 1,645 reported Wednesday.
Ferrer said that Wednesday’s spike could be an anomaly, so health officials will be closely watching testing results in the coming days.
“We need to continue to try to reduce our case numbers, and we do this by protecting workers, wearing our cloth face coverings, maintaining a 6-foot distance and washing our hands,” she said. “This would be the way we have in front of us now to reduce transmission rates even while we reopen additional sectors.”
She also said that while the testing positivity rate has been falling and remains low, it has leveled off in recent weeks at about 3%, and “we do also need to start seeing this number decrease as well.”
After months of closure, the county this week also began accepting waiver applications from schools that want to offer in-person instruction for pre- kindergarten through second-grade students. Ferrer said about 26 schools have submitted waiver requests so far.
On Tuesday, the county quietly authorized breweries and wineries that don’t have their own kitchens to reopen for outdoor service, provided they partner with a third-party food provider. All alcohol sales for on-site consumption at breweries and wineries must be accompanied by a “bona fide meal” purchase.
Customers must be seated at tables, and they must make a reservation at least one day in advance, under the health order.
County health officials had been hesitant to allow breweries and wineries without in-house food service to reopen, noting that they are essentially bars that could attract large crowds. Brewery owners lobbied for the chance to reopen, saying it was unfair to treat them differently from breweries that have their own kitchens, and insisting they could adhere to the same rules requiring food service, social distancing and sanitation.
The 1,645 new cases reported Wednesday, along with 37 announced by Long Beach and five by Pasadena, lifted the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 277,487.
The county also reported 30 more deaths, although three of those fatalities were announced Tuesday afternoon by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. The cumulative number of deaths in the county during the pandemic stood at 6,709 as of Wednesday.
Hospitalizations in the county related to the coronavirus were at 696 as of Wednesday, up from 685 on Tuesday and 674 on Monday.
Ferrer stressed that the number of hospitalizations has been trending downward for weeks, now sitting well below the July averages of about 2,200 a day.
“It’s good news and we believe it reflects both improved therapy and care for patients with COVID-19 that may lead to shorter lengths of stay, as well as the fact that we know we have a much younger population of residents who are infected now, and they may be less likely as a group overall to require hospitalization,” she said.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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