LA County COVID surge has officials pondering restrictions; Is a curfew coming?

After two straight days of coronavirus case numbers exceeding 3,000, county health officials today were weighing possible new restrictions—such as a business curfew—in an effort to reverse a surge in infections they fear could overwhelm hospitals and lead to more deaths.

On Sunday, the county reported 3,061 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths, bringing the county’s totals to 339,560 cases and 7,269 fatalities. On Saturday, the county reported 3,780 new cases, the highest number of positive cases in one day not associated with a backlog since mid-July.

Those numbers came on the heels of a week that saw cases top 2,000 almost every day. By comparison, the county was averaging 988 new cases per day in early October.

The county has also seen a steady increase in hospitalizations. The number of L.A. County residents hospitalized with the virus surpassed 1,000 on Sunday for the first time in months, jumping from 966 on Saturday to 1,014, with 27% of those patients in intensive care.

Although the rate of deaths from the virus has not risen, that number is considered a “lagging indicator,” meaning it tends to increase several weeks after a spike in hospitalizations.

The Department of Public Health indicated last week that the elevated number of cases in recent days reflects in part increased testing across the county. Nearly 3,386,000 individuals had been tested as of Sunday, with 9% of all people testing positive since the start of the pandemic. The recent positivity rate, which had fallen near 3%, has also been on the rise, reaching nearly 6% as of last week.

Health officials have pointed squarely at gatherings of residents—either in public or private settings—for driving the recent surge, which has primarily involved younger residents under age 50. They even suggested people gathering at restaurants or at friends’ homes to watch sporting events, such as the Dodgers’ World Series run and the Laker’s NBA championship, may be responsible for pushing up cases.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas reiterated Monday that the county will be discussing the possibility of additional restrictions this week, including a possible curfew for business operations or other restrictions on operating hours.

“While we should not jump to any conclusions before the Board of Supervisors has had time to fully consider all options, I trust we will be guided by ways to safely keep the economy open,” he said in a statement. “We must also look for structural ways to remind everyone that the safest place to be right now is at home. Potential options could include instituting a curfew, so businesses do not have to close again. Rather, businesses would have limited hours for essential activities.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn echoed that possibility, particularly for restaurants.

“The fact of the matter is, this is a dire warning to all of us. It’s an alarm that the cases have spiked so dramatically,” Hahn told KNX Newsradio Monday. “The suggestion is that we ask our businesses, our restaurants, to close maybe by 10 p.m. so that they don’t essentially become bars where people are just sitting around drinking, laughing and talking without their masks on. So it’s not a general public curfew for everybody.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday.

Los Angeles County is already mired in the most restrictive purple tier of California’s four-tier coronavirus monitoring system, placing severe limits on businesses and public gatherings. Based on the surge in cases in recent weeks, the county will be staying in that purple tier indefinitely.

The rise in cases complicates planning for increasing the numbers of students returning to schools, further re-opening additional business sectors and permitting additional activities.

“Many younger people are out socializing with non-household members, raising concerns that asymptomatic young people are helping to spread the virus to more vulnerable people at a time when cases are surging dangerously in the county,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said over the weekend. “While the effect of the coronavirus on younger people may not be significantly associated with deaths, younger people definitely act as a transmission connector to individuals at a higher risk. Spread among family members and at worksites will also increase considerably as we see more and more cases among our younger residents.”

The state on Friday issued a travel advisory urging residents to avoid non-essential travel. It also recommends that people traveling into California—whether they are visitors or returning residents—from another state or country to self-quarantine for 14 days. Los Angeles County health officials have a similar recommendation on the books, urging residents to travel out of state to quarantine upon their return.

The travel warnings come two weeks in advance of Thanksgiving, which has health officials on edge, fearing that gatherings of families and friends from multiple households could become super-spreader events.

Ferrer told reporters Thursday that residents need to celebrate the holiday in a way that is respective of the pandemic. She said residents should stay at home for the holiday, and if they do gather with other people, the events need to be restricted to three households and be held outdoors for a limited time, with face coverings and social distancing.

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