“We do not want to be at the place where the only option open to us are dramatic re-closings,” said Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County Director of Public Health, on Monday. She then went on to acknowledge that England had done just that, but held out hope that L.A. can avoid similar measures saying, “I think we can do that.”
“Our cases are at best going to stabilize at a high number,” she predicted. “at worse, going higher”
On Monday, Ferrer reported 1,406 new daily cases of COVID-19. That number had risen slightly, but not a lot, over the previous week.
“If we ever see ourselves over 2,000 cases a day,” warned Ferrer, “that will translate in two weeks to more deaths.”
On Friday, the number of new cases reached over 2,100 the first time since mid-August, at 2,108. The rise is not, as some have suggested, a matter of more tests equalling more cases recorded.
Last week, the 7-day rolling average of test positivity stood at 3.2%. By Friday, that had risen to 3.8%. The rising numbers are occurring, of course, in the context of a surge nationwide.
For the first time, the United States breached the 100,000 cases per day mark on Wednesday. On Thursday, the number jumped to 121,000, a record. On Friday, the number of new cases was 117,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
With the winter holiday season rapidly approaching, L.A. health officials fear gatherings of extended family and friends will increase. The cooler weather, meanwhile, means those gatherings will likely occur more often indoors, despite health orders to the contrary, threatening to rapidly spread infections.
“Holiday gatherings where people are more likely to gather indoors are perfect for spreading COVID-19,” warned Ferrer.
On Thursday, Dr. Paul Simon, Chief Science Officer for the L.A. County Department of Public Health said thus far the county’s surge in cases hasn’t equaled spiking numbers being seen in some parts of the country, but the increases are still concerning.
He said L.A. has no immediate plans to implement any sweeping shutdowns or other restrictions, but health officials will be watching the numbers closely.
“I think if we continue to see very slow, gradual increases, we may be willing to live with it,” Dr. Simon said. “We’re not going to do anything drastic at this point. We are, though, trying to intensify our messaging around discouraging gatherings. We think that’s probably an important contributor.”
L.A. County officials revealed on Thursday that they are watching outbreaks in worksite settings, particularly in the last several weeks. “It’s an increase that we’re going to have to watch very closely,” said Dr. Simon.
“During the summer, we saw a big spike up in outbreaks in these general workspaces,” he said. That category includes film and TV production. The fear is that that may happening this winter.
Dr. Simon said the county has so far investigated thousands of workplace outbreaks. Currently, about 300 are being looked into, most very small.
As Deadline reported on Friday, one of those outbreaks occurred recently at the Santa Clarita Studios north of Los Angeles. The County of Los Angeles Public Health reported that there were five positive COVID-19 cases at the facility, where features like Furious 7, Django Unchained and True Lies have lensed as well as series like Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet, CBS’ S.W.A.T. and Fox’s Melrose Place.
On Wednesday, New Line shut down production on the Olivia Wilde-directed film Don’t Worry Darling, after a member of the production tested positive for COVID-19.
On Monday, two people involved with the production of TV’s The Young and the Restless tested positive, as well.
The concern going into winter is increased coronavirus infections coupled with flu season. That’s the much-discussed “twindemic” which could overwhelm hospitals as flu season peaks in January and February — not coincidentally, just after families gather for the winter holidays. Overwhelmed hospitals would lead to a greater spike in deaths as critically ill patients cannot get proper care.
Where is that tipping point?
“The time when we were most worried,” said Ferrer, “was mid July-early August when 2,200 people were in the hospital for COVID-19.” L.A. County currently has 821 people hospitalized with COVID-19.
“This isn’t a sort of inconsequential little blip,” she stressed. “This is a pandemic of the sort we have never seen in living memory.”
City News Service and Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.
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