Following a series of recent high-profile parties held in spite of coronavirus restrictions, Los Angeles County’s health officer Thursday added his voice to calls against large gatherings that can be come super-spreaders of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is spreading pretty easily,” Dr. Muntu Davis said in an online media briefing. “We have high case rates, and the only way to prevent the spread is for people who don’t live in the same household to stay physically distanced … and when you’re out and about and around others who don’t live in your household to wear face coverings.
“As gatherings start to happen in these fashions of parties … it is again not something you should do. In order to prevent the spread you have to keep you distance and wear your face coverings. Parties are not allowed at this time,” he said.
Davis’ comments came on the heels of a week that has seen three large-scale parties make headlines — one at a Hollywood bar, another at a Beverly Crest mansion and a wedding reception in the Holmby Hills.
The gatherings, at which guests were seen in close contact with each other and without face coverings, prompted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday to authorize the Department of Water and Power to shut off utilities to homes or businesses that host such “egregious” gatherings amid the pandemic.
“We’re Angelenos, we like to be with each other, we like to be around people, we want to see our friends and family, and I know how tough these months have been for all of us,” Garcetti said Wednesday. “Everything that we are doing, though, everything we individually and collectively are sacrificing depends on each one of us doing our part to reduce infections, hospitalizations and deaths.”
Davis on Thursday emphasized the need for residents to adhere to health restrictions, offering assurance that the time will come when such parties will be welcomed again.
“If we can all do this together, both residents in the county as well as businesses as well as us as local governments and state governments and federal government, we can get through this,” he said. “This should not be considered that this is going to be a permanent event, that we won’t ever be able to get back to gathering at some point. But right now we really have to keep to the recommendations in order to ensure that the cases continue to drop and the community transmission is at a much, much lower rate.
“… We really do need people to do the right thing in order to slow the spread of this,” he said. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of it. We’re not going to enforce our way out of it. We really need people to batten down … and hold onto the precautions and do the things that are being recommended at the moment. At this time, we’re still waiting on a vaccine to show up, we’re still waiting on preventative treatments to show up. We don’t have those at this moment. … This is not a permanent situation but we do have some more time that we have to wait before we can get back to reopening more of what we want to have open and get more people back to work and our kids back to school.”
Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu on Wednesday introduced a motion suggesting various penalities for people who host parties, including permit prohibitions or having a certificate of occupancy held or revoked, in addition to utility shutoffs like those ordered by Garcetti.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that the county’s younger residents — those most likely to be attending such large parties — are driving up coronavirus case numbers in the county. She said infection rates among residents aged 30 to 49 nearly tripled between June and late July, and rates among those 18-29 quadrupled.
“These two age groups continue to drive new infections here in the county,” Ferrer said.
She said people in the 18-29 age group now represent twice the percentage of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the county than they did in April, matching the rate of people aged 80 and over. People aged 30-49 now represent 25% of all hospitalized virus patients.
Ferrer said the county has reported hundreds of deaths among younger age groups, but noted that younger people who become infected but don’t become severely ill can still pass the virus to older residents who might require hospitalization or even die.
Driving home the point that COVID-19 can affect anyone, regardless of age, Ferrer pointed to a recently documented outbreak along USC’s fraternity row that has so far resulted in 45 positive cases of the virus. She said a separate smaller outbreak occurred among another group of USC students who were studying and socializing together.
Ferrer also said at least eight football players at UCLA have tested positive.
The county on Wednesday announced another 2,347 confirmed cases of the virus, but again noted that the number is likely an undercount, thanks to continued technological problems at the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system. As of Wednesday, the countywide case total since the start of the pandemic stood at 197,912.
The state reporting backlog, however, does not affect the daily reporting of deaths or hospitalizations, and both of those numbers have been trending downward, leading Ferrer to again say she is “cautiously optimistic” about the success of local efforts to control the spread of the virus.
The county has recorded 4,825 deaths since the start of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, there were 1,768 people hospitalized due to the virus, down from the 2,200 level of mid-July.