Los Angeles County has set another record for the daily number of new coronavirus cases as the public health director confirmed the area is seeing a rise in community transmission of the illness.
Health officials have warned that the reopening of businesses and recreational amenities that began about a month ago — combined with mass protests against police brutality — would lead to more public interaction that could in turn cause more infections, and the numbers released over the past week have seen that scenario begin to play out.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer on announced 2,571 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, the highest single-day total to date. She noted it was the third time in the past week that the daily number of new cases had surpassed the 2,000 mark, but while those earlier large numbers were attributed in part to a backlog in testing results from specific labs, that wasn’t the case on Monday.
“While some of this may be due to lags in reporting, the numbers do tell us that we’re seeing an increase in community transmission,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said that while the county’s overall rate of positive coronavirus tests is still about 8%, the rate has been increasing over the past week. Ferrer said the average daily rate of tests that come back positive — which is calculated by averaging results over a seven-day period — is now 8.4%, up from 5.8% on June 12.
“And that was just 10 days ago,” Ferrer said. “Throughout our recovery journey, we have said it’s likely that the number of cases will increase as more people are out of their homes and around other people. Now it’s going to be very important to watch how this increase in cases translates into our daily hospitalizations over the next few weeks.”
As of Monday, there were 1,453 people hospitalized in the county for coronavirus, up slightly from Sunday.
The 2,571 new cases reported by Ferrer lifted the county’s total number to 85,942. The city of Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported an additional 60 cases Monday, while Pasadena announced 15 more, lifting the overall total to 86,017, which is close to the number of cases in the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Ferrer also announced another 18 deaths from the virus on Monday, although one of those fatalities was announced Sunday by authorities in Pasadena, which also has its own health agency. The new deaths increased the county’s total to 3,137.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, said the average number of people hospitalized on any given day due to coronavirus has remained fairly constant, and there is no immediate fear of medical centers running short on bed space. However, the increase in community transmission could threaten the availability of intensive-care unit space, she said.
Ghaly also said an analysis of case figures and estimates has found that roughly one in every 400 Los Angeles County residents is currently “infectious,” meaning they have the coronavirus but are not showing symptoms and have not been formally diagnosed, and thus are not hospitalized or in isolation. Factoring in a margin of error, that number of infectious people could actually range from one in every 200 residents to one in every 750 residents.
“What this means is that Angelenos over the course of a typical day are likely going to interact with a number of people who are potentially infectious,” Ghaly said. “… If one in 400 people are infected and don’t necessarily know it and are able to transmit COVID-19, it’s entirely possible or even likely as the Safer At Home health officer orders are pared back that an average person in the average day may come in the vicinity of others that are infectious.
“… Given how likely it that you could be in contact with one or more people throughout your normal day, it’s critical to keep using those basic public health interventions and measures that we’ve talked about so much. Masks and face coverings help you from spreading the virus to others, a virus that you might not know that you have, and it likely protects you as well. This is why you should continue also to physically distance yourself from others whenever you can.”
Ferrer also revealed Monday that her life has been threatened repeatedly, but she promised to continue to “follow the science.” She noted that an increasing number of public health officials nationwide have been threatened with violence. The former chief health officer for Orange County, Dr. Nichole Quick, resigned earlier this month as a result of such threats.
“In my case, the death threats started last month, during a COVID-19 Facebook Live public briefing when someone very casually suggested that I should be shot,” Ferrer said Monday. “I didn’t immediately see the message, but my husband did, my children did, and so did my colleagues.
“One reason I handle these (daily) briefings myself is to shield the extraordinary team at L.A. County Public Health from these attacks which have been going on, via emails, public postings, and letters — since March,” she said. “It is deeply worrisome to imagine that our hardworking infectious disease physicians, nurses, epidemiologists and environmental health specialists or any of our other team members would have to face this level of hatred.”
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