LA County May See More Infections as Businesses Reopen, Officials Say

Screenshot of Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer during her daily coronavirus press briefing.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — As cases of Covid-19 in Los Angeles County ticked up in the first weeks of October due to workplace outbreaks, public health officials said infections will continue to go up in the coming weeks as more businesses reopen.

With more people venturing back to work outside of their homes, there are now increased opportunities for outbreaks at warehouses, manufacturing factories, office and retail jobs, according to Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“As more businesses are re-opening, we may see more outbreaks,” Ferrer said during a Wednesday briefing. “This in part reflects the fact there’s more reporting done at the worksites, but it also reflects the fact that there may be more transmission as there’s more interaction among different people.”

Health officials investigated 23 workplace outbreaks in early to mid-September, but later that month and into October that figure jumped to 39 outbreaks, Ferrer said.

She added that most businesses visited by inspectors followed the infection control guidelines established by the county.

In the last few months, gyms and places of worship have been the biggest violators of the public health order and racked up the most citations from county health officials.

Health officials began fining businesses out of compliance with the health order in August. In total, 131 businesses have been fined so far, including 51 gyms and fitness centers and 36 places of worship.

Last month, a local church was ordered by an LA Superior Court judge to stop holding indoor Sunday services.

There are more than 800 schools open for high-need students with limited class sizes, which equals over 17,000 students and almost 11,000 staff. There are no reported cases of Covid-19 among students and only a “handful” of cases among staff workers, Ferrer said.

Progress is being made compared to earlier this summer when back in July there were over 2,000 people admitted to the hospital for complications from Covid-19, compared to 700 as of Wednesday. Across California, the state is seeing hospitalizations at a 6-month low, but they’re rising again and are projected to continue ticking up.

The model for projected transmission in LA County rose to 1.05, meaning that the number of new cases will likely go up.

“It is more likely that the number of cases will go up than they will go down,” said LA County Department of Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly. “Unfortunately, with this slight increase in transmission conveys what I know is a difficult but still very true message: the Covid-19 pandemic is certainly not over. It is still alive; the virus is still out there within our communities.”

County health officials will also modify its health order to allow modest, outdoor social gatherings with people from up to three households.

“I think the issue for us is to try to do some activities that it’s very hard for everyone to not do for months and months,” Ferrer said. “We are threading the needle here. But I think it is appropriate to do some of the activities that people are so desperate to be able to do with absolute adherence to the guidance.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti echoed concerns from health officials, saying in a virtual press conference Wednesday the projected uptick in cases is a bad sign.

“It means in plain terms that we’re headed in the wrong direction for the first time in over two weeks,” Garcetti said of the county’s transmission rate. “We’re living in a reduced case environment but it’s still a high risk environment.”

The mayor urged residents to abide by public health guidelines in order to “press down” any bump in Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks. 

Garcetti said of the county health order allowing for small gatherings that residents should be mindful that hotels, nursing homes and college dorms and sororities are not considered “households” under the order.

“Use your head. Make smart decisions,” he said. “These new allowances should not result in new cases if we adhere to them correctly.”

On Wednesday, health officials reported 22 new deaths and 1,349 new confirmed cases in the last 24 hours.

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