On a day the Dodgers could clinch a World Series title, Los Angeles County residents were being warned Tuesday that large public celebrations or even small private game-watching or celebratory gatherings can become super-spreaders of COVID-19.
The county’s health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, issued a health advisory Monday night warning of the dangers of public or private gatherings.
“We have a lot to celebrate in the county, and it is critical that we all take action to slow the spread as we do,” Davis said in a statement. “That means not participating in public celebrations of any kind, which are high-risk. There have been too many instances of people unknowingly spreading the virus at these types of gatherings, which, sadly, has led to new infections, serious illness and death.
“We can prevent cases, but it will take action from each of us personally and collectively,” he said.
Davis did not point to any specific examples — such as a thousands-strong gathering of Laker fans in downtown Los Angeles following the team’s NBA title win — but referenced only “private gatherings and public celebrations.”
The county recently amended its health order to set guidelines for small private gatherings — which were previously barred under the order but which health officials acknowledged were occurring anyway. The county’s updated guidance allows for gatherings of members of up to three households, but such get-togethers must be held outdoors with face coverings and physical distancing.
Earlier Monday, county public health director Barbara Ferrer reported a disturbing increase in average daily coronavirus cases. She said daily virus cases were averaging about 940 per day in early October, but in the past week, the average has been almost 1,200 per day.
Ferrer pointed directly to sports viewing as a driver of case increases, saying the spikes “do correspond with gatherings happening more frequently as people come together with non-household members to watch games.”
“And it wasn’t just the Lakers or the Clippers. It’s not just basketball,” Ferrer said. “We now have football games that are happening and of course we’ve had the Dodgers in post-season for quite a few weeks already.
“… I think it’s really wonderful that we have both incredible teams with so much talent and also incredible spirit amongst people in L.A. County who root with their hearts and their souls for their teams to do well,” she said.
“The downside of this is during a pandemic some of the things we’ve done in the past just don’t make sense. Gathering in large crowds to watch games indoors, people aren’t wearing their face coverings, people are yelling a lot. That’s just not sensible. Even gathering outdoors at dining areas and watching games with hundreds of people and celebrating by jumping up and down with no masks on, hugging perfect strangers, again with a lot of shouting and cheering. It’s so easy to spread this virus.”
With younger residents driving the county’s new case increases, Ferrer said gatherings of sports fans appear to be “contributing the most” to the spike.
The county on Monday reached a pair of grim milestones, with virus deaths reaching the 7,000 mark and the total number of cases topping 300,000.
Ferrer reported eight new COVID-19 deaths on Monday to push the county to a cumulative total of 7,000.
She aso announced another 861 cases of COVID-19. Although the number reflected the typically low amounts reported early in the week due to testing lags from the weekend, it was enough to lift the county beyond the 300,000-case milestone, with the total reaching 300,614. Long Beach later on Monday added 35 more cases to that total, while Pasadena health officials reported 13 additional cases, pushing the cumulative total to 300,662.
There were a total of 767 people hospitalized due to the virus as of Monday, down from 785 on Sunday.
Ferrer said the increase in the average daily number of new cases is “a cause for concern,” and it is preventing the county from advancing in the state’s economic-reopening matrix — meaning more delays in reopening more businesses.
“This is a call to everyone — individuals and businesses — to understand the increases we’re discussing today are the results of decisions we collectively made two to three weeks ago,” Ferrer said. “And the actions we’re taking today will influence whether we’re able to continue our recovery journey, or we stall or even take steps backward. We do need to slow the transmission to allow for economic recovery.”
On her theme of discouraging large gatherings, Ferrer also issued an early warning for people to celebrate Halloween safely on Saturday. She urged residents to modify their actions to the pandemic — using Zoom gatherings, holding at-home scavenger hunts or taking advantage of drive-through Halloween displays. She again discouraged door-to-door trick-or-treating, although the tradition isn’t being outright banned by the county’s health order.
She stressed that Halloween parties or other large gatherings are prohibited under the order.
“This pandemic has forced so many to sacrifice so much this year, and we recognize the frustration and disappointment with the holiday restrictions,” she said. “For now though, it’s simply not safe to celebrate holidays the way we usually do. Being close to others who are not in our household carries with it a lot of risk for transmitting COVID-19 this year.”