Health Officials On Edge As Coronavirus Cases Spike Dramatically

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Painting a dire picture of upward spikes in coronavirus cases and spread, Los Angeles County health officials said today without a dramatic reversal in public behavior to control the virus “we will see a lot more deaths'' and possibly run short of hospital beds in a matter of weeks.

The latest statistics compiled by local health officials estimate that on average, one in every 140 people in Los Angeles County is infected with COVID-19 and capable of spreading it to others, likely without having any symptoms or even knowing they are carrying the virus.

That figure has dramatically changed from last week, when the estimate was one in every 400 people.

“What this means is that Angelenos in the activities of daily living when they go out are very likely to be in the locations or near persons who are currently infectious, and in fact a large typical store is likely to have multiple infectious persons enter the shop every day,'' Dr. Roger Lewis, who leads the county's statistical modeling efforts, said.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director, noted the “stark change'' in hospitalizations over the past week, with more than 1,700 people currently hospitalized, up from an average of about 1,400 just two weeks ago. She said if that trend continues, the county could quickly run out of intensive-care unit beds, forcing hospitals to adjust operations and create additional ICU space.

She noted that given the 14-day incubation period of the virus, even if the spread stopped immediately, uncounted numbers of people have already been infected and will impact the health system in the coming weeks.

“The rising patient volume in our hospitals will likely fill all of the intensive care unit beds that are currently available,'' she said.

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Lewis said the problem will go beyond just ICU beds.

“The expected increase in hospitalizations, assuming the increase in (transmission rates) continues ... suggest that we are at risk of running out of hospital beds if we don't take steps to increase that capacity within the next two to three weeks,'' Lewis said.

He stressed that many of the people who will need those beds in coming weeks “are people who have already been exposed.''

Health officials acknowledged the problem of quarantine fatigue, noting that residents are anxious to get back to normal life and may see the reopening of businesses across the county as a sign the virus is disappearing -- leading to a lack of social distancing and a failure to wear face coverings.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer said that problem played out over the past two weeks, noting that the weekend of June 20, roughly 500,000 people visited bars and nightlife spots.

Responding to that surge, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered all bars closed in Los Angeles County. Ferrer noted that Los Angeles County enacted an amended local health order within hours of that announcement, a hint that the county was already preparing to make such a move before Newsom's proclamation.

Ferrer said restaurants and bars continued over the weekend struggling to fully adhere to all of the safety protocols for operating. She said of the establishments visited by inspectors over the weekend, 49% of bars and 33% of restaurants were failing to meet physical distancing requirements. She said 54% of bars and 44% of restaurants were violating the requirement that workers wear face masks and shields.

“I think we are a little bit discouraged, you know, three weeks out (from) the restaurants reopening for in-person dining we still have almost half of our restaurants not in compliance,'' she said. “... We've seen examples of overcrowding at our beaches and some of our public spaces and again noticed that people are not wearing their face coverings and not physical distancing.''

She also said she's gotten an “explosion'' of new outbreaks in workplaces that are being operated without health protocols.

“And we've had numerous examples of outbreaks happening because families are getting together with extended family members and friends to celebrate weddings, things that they have postponed, and again have created higher risk and there was transmission,'' Ferrer said.

Given that current coronavirus case numbers reflect transmission that occurred over the past two to four weeks, Ferrer said officials were not dismissing the mass protests against police brutality as a contributing factor in the spike in cases, but said “that alone would not explain the increase.''

“I appreciate that there's no one place to lay any blame and we're absolutely not trying to do that, particularly because there are many businesses that have opened and they've adhered to every single protocol that's in place, and they're doing their very best to offer safety to employees and customers,'' Ferrer said. “... These are high-risk settings and there are lots of people out and about in these settings.''

She said restaurants, retail businesses and residents all have to work together to stem the rising tide of cases.

“We will see a lot more deaths if we can't turn this around, so we do need everyone's help,'' she said.

On Sunday, county officials announced another 2,542 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20 additional deaths, bringing the county's totals to 97,894 cases and 3,305 fatalities.

Also as of Sunday, according the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the seven-day average of daily new cases was more than 1,900, an increase from the 1,379 average two weeks ago. There are 1,717 people currently hospitalized, which is higher than the 1,350 to 1,450 daily hospitalizations seen in recent weeks.

And, with test results now available for more than one million individuals, 9% are testing positive. The cumulative positivity rate has increased from 8% to 9%, and the seven-day average of the daily positivity rate has increased from 5.8% two weeks ago to 8.7%.

Some officials have attributed the rise in overall cases to increases in testing, but Ferrer said repeatedly in recent days that the metrics clearly demonstrate an increase in community spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Health officials said Friday the rise in cases hitting the county's younger population particularly hard -- likely reflecting reopenings of bars and restaurants and participation in this month's mass demonstrations against police brutality.

Photos: Getty Images

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