Despite limited testing over Thanksgiving holiday, county records 3,123 new COVID-19 cases

Los Angeles County health officials today again urged people to stay at home as much as possible over the next three weeks to stem a major spike in coronavirus transmission.

The county reported 3,123 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday, about 1,400 fewer than a day earlier, but officials cautioned that dip is likely because of a gap in testing, not an actual turnaround in a surge of cases that’s prompted sweeping new precautions set to take effect Monday.

“Today’s low number has likely dropped because there was no community testing offered on Thanksgiving, and limited testing yesterday,” LA County’s public health department said in a tweet. “We will likely continue seeing lower numbers through the early part of next week because testing was less available.”

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continued to surge. They hit 1,951 today, an increase of 58 in just one day—continuing a trend of dozens of new hospitalizations each day.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said today that officials knew this surge was coming, but, “None of us really thought the increase would be so big, across such a short period of time.”

She added that with a vaccine expected to be approved for distribution shortly, “the light is there at the end of the tunnel … but we’ve got to get there.”

Long Beach has also warned of its own surge in new cases including a 248% increase in hospitalizations as of Nov. 23. It’s unclear if that trend has abated or intensified locally. The city has not released updated numbers since Nov. 24.

County health officials warned this week that if the spread of coronavirus continues at the same pace, hospitals could start seeing bed and ICU shortages in two to four weeks. On Wednesday, they estimated one in every 145 LA County residents was infectious—meaning currently spreading COVID-19—and they feared the prospect of Thanksgiving gatherings would exacerbate the situation.

To try to reverse the trend, LA County is instituting a sweeping new health order Monday that bans all gatherings except church services and protests, closes playgrounds and further limits occupancy at businesses. That’s on top of in-person dining closures already in place.

The new rules don’t automatically take effect in Long Beach because the city has its own health department, but local officials have almost always followed the county’s lead. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the health department is reviewing the county’s rules and “will release additional guidance.”

Because the virus has a 14-day incubation period, it will likely take two weeks to see if the strict new measures are able to reverse the outbreak, health officials said.

The full list of changes going into effect Monday are:

  • Gatherings: All public and private gatherings with individuals not in your household are prohibited, except for church services and protests, which are constitutionally protected rights.
  • Occupancy limits at various businesses (all individuals at these sites are required to wear face coverings and keep at least 6 feet of distance):
    • Essential retail – 35% maximum occupancy
    • Nonessential retail (includes indoor malls) – 20% maximum occupancy
    • Personal care services – 20% maximum occupancy
    • Libraries – 20% maximum occupancy
    • Fitness centers operating outdoors – 50% maximum occupancy
    • Museums, galleries, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens operating outdoors – 50% maximum occupancy
    • Mini-golf, batting cages, go-kart racing operating outdoors – 50% maximum occupancy
  • Outdoor recreation activities (all of which require face coverings, except for swimming, and distancing):
    • Beaches, trails and parks remain open; gatherings at these sites with members outside your household are prohibited.
    • Golf courses, tennis courts, pickleball, archery ranges, skate parks, bike parks, and community gardens remain open for individuals or members of a single household. Pools that serve more than one household may open only for regulated lap swimming with one person per lane.
    • Drive-in movies/events/car parades are permitted provided occupants in each car are members of one household.
  • Schools:
    • All schools and day camps remain open adhering to reopening protocols. K-12 schools and day camps with an outbreak (3 cases or more over 14 days) should close for 14 days.
  • Closed nonessential businesses/activities:
    • Playgrounds (with the exception of playgrounds at childcare and schools)
    • Cardrooms

To date, LA County has confirmed 390,891 cases and 7,623 COVID-19-related deaths during the pandemic.

Staff writer Jeremiah Dobruck and City News Service contributed to this report.

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