LA County May Be Flattening the Covid Curve, But the End Is a Long Way Off

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

(CN) — Los Angeles County has plodded into August with some progress in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, but health officials say the data shows the county of 10 million residents is right back where it was in May.

LA County reported 2,428 new confirmed infections Wednesday, though nearly 700 of those were carryover from a backlog in the state’s reporting according to LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. In total, 58 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours bringing the death toll to 5,109.

So far, 214,197 Angelenos have tested positive for the virus.

Most infections in the last few months are being spread by younger adults aged 18 to 49. That population saw an explosive growth in positive cases in mid-June, said health officials.

And while hospitalizations are trending down — as are deaths among elderly people — outbreaks continue to occur.

LA County managed to bend the curve on the spread of infections, but because the virus has outlived the summer break health officials say in-person classes at universities and colleges must be delayed and limits must be placed on the number of people living on campuses.

When asked to take an educated guess on when the rate of spread could slow to the point where LA County could meet the threshold to resume in-person classes, Ferrer said she doesn’t have a crystal ball.

“I would be hopeful if we work really hard and we get closer to October and the rate has really come down,” she said, and again touted the importance of physical distancing, infection control and face masks.

“The first thing that makes me feel hopeful is with a new virus in this county we’ve now twice figured out how to slow the spread,” said Ferrer.

What’s not helping are people throwing parties and refusing to wear masks.

“We have example after example after example,” said Ferrer. “The bars may be closed but as you’ve seen people have decided ‘That doesn’t mean we can’t get together, we can’t have music, we can’t do our dancing, we can’t be loud, we can’t sing, we’re going to figure that out.’ And I say you’re figuring that out on the backs of other people.”

The transmission rate in LA County has slightly decreased but does not mean transmission has stopped, according to health officials. Last week, modeling data showed 1 in 510 persons in LA County were currently infected and infectious to others. This week’s data shows that has dropped to 1 in 725.

According to the data, 1 in 8 persons in LA County have been infected with Covid-19 but many of those may not show any symptoms, according to Roger Lewis, the director of Covid-19 demand modeling with the county’s health services department.

Across the state, Covid-19 hospitalizations and the number of intensive care patients are down double digits compared to the end of July, leading Governor Gavin Newsom to give an optimistic pandemic briefing Wednesday.

Newsom said hospitalizations have dropped 19% and ICU patients 16% since July 29.  

“An indication that we are turning the corner on this pandemic,” Newsom told reporters.   

Of the 11,645 new positive cases, Newsom added that over half come from the 295,000 case backlog counties are currently clearing.

The backlog caused by a glitch within the state’s infectious disease database ultimately led the state’s top public health official to abruptly resign over the weekend. Newsom expects the rest of the backlog cases to be returned by individual counties over the next couple days and the state will update its positivity rate accordingly.

California has now conducted over 9.3 million tests and confirmed 586,000 cases, along with 10,648 total deaths.

Technological problems aren’t the only things that hampered California’s response to the novel coronavirus. Like other states and the nation, a lack of medical supplies during the early stages of the pandemic plagued California. To supply millions of essential workers and the state’s over 400 hospitals, Newsom at taxpayers’ expense has been forced to sign billion-dollar agreements with Chinese countries for masks at high markups.

But the meager stockpile carried a high human toll as well, as according to a new study the state could have prevented thousands of new infections and even deaths among frontline workers. 

“We conservatively estimate that at least 20,860 essential worker-related Covid-19 cases may have been avoidable if proper PPE had been available,” states the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center study. “It is likely that dozens of deaths among essential workers could have been avoided with proper use of PPE had an adequate stockpile been in place prior to the pandemic start.”   

The center claims the scramble for N-95 masks and gloves ultimately cost the state $93 million due to inflated costs and additional unemployment claims. It found prices states are paying for a variety of items jumped dramatically compared to pre-pandemic, for example the cost per N-95 mask jumped 465% and surgical mask 1,100%.

Given the damage the virus has done to the state’s coffers and its once-robust economy, Newsom spent much of the hourlong briefing detailing the various actions the state has taken to boost the economy, such as extending tax deadlines and allowing small businesses to defer up to $50,000 in sales tax payments. He also called on lawmakers to act swiftly in the final weeks of the legislative session and send him bills relating to eviction relief, foreclosure programs and expanded worker protections.

Last month, state Democrats introduced a sweeping $100 billion relief package they claim can be achieved without raising taxes. Lawmakers have until the end of the month to approve new legislation, although Newsom could end up calling for a special session if they run out of time.

“We have to roll up our sleeves now and get this package across the finish line,” Newsom said. 

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