LA County officials paint grim picture of rising COVID-19 cases ahead of holidays

A day after officials updated the county health order to add tighter restrictions on businesses, they illustrated just how bad COVID-19 cases are getting in Los Angeles County and begged residents to stay home and comply with the rules.

Starting Friday, the latest health order will require all food and drink establishments to limit their outdoor dining capacity to 50% and all nonessential businesses, including restaurants, to close down at 10 p.m. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger reiterated that it’s not an overall curfew, and she clarified that restaurants can still do delivery and pick-up orders after 10 p.m.

Long Beach has said it’s planning on implementing similar restrictions, but it hasn’t yet finalized what they’ll be. The city determines its own rules separately from LA County because it has its own health department.

LA County officials said a general curfew and stay-home order aren’t far off if cases continue to rise.

They laid out specific standards for when additional restrictions would be put in place: If the five-day average number of cases reaches more than 4,000 or hospitalizations get to more than 1,750 patients per day, all dining at restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars will not be shut down, with only pick-up and delivery allowed.

If the five-day average grows higher than 4,500 cases or hospitalizations reach higher than 2,000 per day, the county will issue another “Safer At Home” order for a minimum of three weeks with a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. mandatory curfew (essential and emergency workers would be exempted).

At the current rate of growth, the county will be at more than 4,000 daily cases and 1,600 to 2,600 daily hospitalizations by early December, according to county health director Barbara Ferrer.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable that we get there; I hope with every single bone in my body that we don’t get there,” Ferrer said.

But, she warned: “When the rate of increase is as high as it is right now, it can be harder to slow the spread.”

The seven-day average case rate has steeply risen since early November and so has the test positivity rate: from 3.9% on Nov. 1 to 7.1% today. This is more evidence of increased community transmission, Ferrer said.

On Wednesday, officials reported 3,944 new cases and 1,188 people hospitalized with COVID-19, with 27% of those hospitalized in intensive care and 15% on ventilators. Hospitalizations, along with cases, are also steadily rising.

“It is highly likely that we see the highest rate of hospitalizations that we’ve seen in the COVID-19 pandemic to date unless we take immediate action,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, county health services director.

Hospitals are preparing for this by, once again, canceling elective procedures and discharging patients that don’t need hospital-level care, she said.

However, one metric that continues to decline is deaths from COVID-19. Ferrer said that it is likely because of improvements in treatments, but noted that as hospitalizations continue to rise, we will likely see deaths rise too. The county on Wednesday reported 36 new deaths from COVID-19. The countywide death toll overall stands at 7,335.

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.
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