World Events

L.A. County COVID-19 surge coincides with large gatherings

As throngs of political partiers and protesters took to the streets over the weekend, California public health officials again raised red flags, warning that crowded gatherings threaten to exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus at a precarious point in the pandemic.

The spontaneous demonstrations that broke out after Democrat Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, were announced as the winners in this year’s hotly contested election came as daily coronavirus case counts in Los Angeles County surged to levels not seen since the summer.

“Because we are still in the midst of a pandemic, we cannot afford to gather in ways that increase transmission of the virus,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.

“Let us remember that no matter how we feel, we all have an obligation to protect each other from COVID-19. Gathering with people outside of your household, especially in settings where people are shouting, chanting or singing and not distancing, can easily lead to increased cases of COVID-19. This will slow down our recovery and can result in more illness and deaths.”

Experts and health officials throughout the state have been reciting a similar refrain for weeks now — urging residents to avoid gatherings as much as possible, or at least take precautions such as wearing face coverings, staying outdoors and keeping at least six feet away from members of other households.

Such steps are all the more vital now, officials say, as California looks to avoid the sizable spikes currently striking many other states.

In L.A. County, officials have announced at least 2,000 new coronavirus infections every day since Thursday — including on Sunday, when the county typically reports fewer new cases because of reporting lags over the weekend.

Prior to the recent rash, the last time the county’s daily case count had surpassed that threshold without being inflated by a reporting backlog was Aug. 15, according to The Times’ tracker.

The recent rise in cases has been steady and sustained for the last month. In early October, L.A. County’s seven-day average of coronavirus cases stood at about 940 new cases a day.

The number of COVID-19 patients ill enough to require hospitalization has also crept up, from 777 on Nov. 2 to 851 as of Sunday, according to county data.

Statewide, the seven-day average for new cases is 5,444, up from the 14-day average of 4,758.

Should the current case trend hold, it’s conceivable that California could reach 1 million recorded coronavirus cases later this week.

The state also seems certain to surpass another grim milestone in the not-too-distant future: 18,000 deaths.

California has also seen its positivity rate — the proportion of those tested who are found to be infected with the coronavirus — increase to 3.9% over the last week, per the latest state data. It was only in late September that the share of Californians who had tested positive for COVID-19 over the preceding week dipped below 3% for the first time.

Despite the uptick, the number of weekly coronavirus cases that California has recorded recently is far from the peak seen over the summer. For the seven-day period that ended Thursday, California reported nearly 34,000 cases, about half as many as the state’s worst week, July 17–23, when 66,341 cases were diagnosed.

By comparison, the United States as a whole recorded more than 662,000 cases in the last week — the second consecutive weekly record.

Combined, L.A., Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties reported 18,558 cases in the last week, up from 17,704 the previous week. Those numbers are also well off the pandemic’s high point, as nearly 39,000 cases were reported in the region in one week in mid-July.

Throughout the pandemic, and especially since the summertime surge, officials have continually hammered the point that personal choices — whether to wear a mask in public, whether to attend that party, whether to stay home if you feel sick — play every bit as large a role in shaping the future of COVID-19 as wider public policy decisions.

“We know that the pandemic has altered our way of living,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said during a briefing last week. “We’ve all made sacrifices — some we’ve been OK with, others have been really hard — and each of these sacrifices has helped us slow the spread of COVID in our state. And I would say Californians have done an incredible job.

“We have to keep these efforts up,” he added, “as we know cases can begin to skyrocket quickly.”

That’s a particularly troubling possibility as falling temperatures increasingly push people indoors and upcoming holidays tempt people to celebrate with family and friends.

“We understand people are getting very tired of this COVID world, and we hope that, in the new year, there will be some new strategies that will help us control spread,” Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said during a briefing last week. “But for the time being, definitely through the Thanksgiving and December holiday season … we really are discouraging the gatherings outside your household.”

Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II, Iris Lee and Sean Greene contributed to this report.

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