Long Beach officials urge caution after ‘significant’ COVID-19 case increases

As state officials see the fastest increase in cases since the beginning of the pandemic and take emergency measures to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases, Long Beach officials are also seeing a rapid spike in the virus and are urging residents to stay home for the holidays.

Talks of further business reopenings have all but ceased after Monday’s news that the average county rate of cases per 100,000 jumped to 13.7; the state allows no more than seven to move to a less restrictive tier.

Long Beach on Monday reported an increase of 318 new COVID-19 cases from last Thursday (city officials do not report case numbers on Fridays due to furloughs). This is more than the total number of cases that were reported in the first week of November.

“We are seeing a significant increase and it is concerning,” said Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer, adding that the increases are being seen throughout the rest of Southern California and the state.

Even with a weekend delay, Long Beach hasn’t seen a spike like this since July, when the county hit its peak of cases. However, hospitalizations of Long Beach residents were much higher then, reaching as many as 100 patients, and they are at about 40 as of Monday, according to the city’s latest numbers.

As hospitalizations steadily rise in the county, the number of Long Beach residents in hospitals has remained fairly steady. The city tracks the number of Long Beach residents hospitalized anywhere, not the number of people hospitalized within the city.

The health department is staying in close contact with local hospitals and is confident that they are prepared for a surge, according to Davis. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia also said on KPCC’s AirTalk on Monday morning that the city has “plenty of beds” in its hospitals.

The city in Septemer demobilized its 100-bed overflow hospital at the Long Beach Convention Center, which was set up in April in anticipation for a surge in patients from COVID-19. It was never used, but a city spokewoman said they can have it up and running within 24 hours if it’s needed. The city can also set up another surge hospital at the Long Beach City College Pacific Coast Campus if the need arises, she said.

Garcia said the health department has already begun planning for a potential vaccine rollout after news that two companies have seen successes with vaccine trials, though he warned that the vaccine is still at least months away from the general population. Davis noted that most of the details of vaccine distribution are in the air right now because it depends on which vaccine the city gets, how long it can be in stored unrefrigerated and how many they get. Either way, frontline healthcare workers would be the first to get it.

State and county officials are pointing the blame for the rise in infections at public and private gatherings with people outside of a single household. Davis also pointed out that it’s been about two weeks since Halloween weekend, and infections would be surfacing now as a result of activity during that time. She and other officials are especially paying attention to the upcoming holidays, including Thanksgiving, when people are more likely eschew health orders and host gatherings.

“It is really easy to transmit if you let your guard down,” Davis said. ” It doesn’t take a lot.”

Garcia said on Airtalk that “everything is always on the table” when it comes to potential restrictions. County officials are floating the idea of a curfew for restaurants and the state has put most counties back in the most restrictive tier, including Orange County. Garcia and Davis both urged residents to not gather for Thanksgiving.

“Our cases are going up, and its important even though were all tired, we still need to wear a mask, avoid gatherings,” Davis said. “And that includes Thanksgiving just as much as any other day.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional information about the city’s surge hospital sites. 

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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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