Los Angeles County officials said they are hoping a new set of restrictions can help slow the unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases but warned that a tougher stay-at-home measure will be necessary if cases keep spiking.
Barbara Ferrer, the L.A. County health director, on Saturday said officials hope the more narrowly tailored restrictions will be sufficient to slow the spread of the coronavirus without reverting to stricter stay-at-home orders like those put in place in March.
She said the county is “at a different place now than we were in March and April, when we didn’t have the science around masking and distancing.
“Now that we do, it offers us a slightly different path forward,” she said. “But I’ll be honest: It only offers us a different path forward if everyone’s doing it.”
The risk of allowing more people to be out, she said, is that the efforts to slow the spread will work only if people choose to observe safety precautions. If they don’t, the county could find itself back where it was in the early spring.
“If this doesn’t work, and two to three weeks from now we find ourselves in a worse place than we are, we’re going to have to go back and look at what else do we have as options, because we cannot continue to risk overwhelming the healthcare system,” Ferrer said. “I don’t think there’s any disagreement about that — that’s a disaster that we have to avoid at all costs.”
Her comments came a day after the county issued a new COVID-19 pandemic order that prohibits most gatherings and discourages crowds, the latest in a series of desperate moves aimed at slowing coronavirus infections. Gatherings — apart from outdoor church services and outdoor political protests — will be banned for three weeks starting Monday. Retail stores will remain open, albeit at a more limited capacity.
Earlier this week, the county suspended outdoor restaurant dining.
The new order comes as L.A. County faces its worst crisis of the pandemic.
Both statewide and in L.A. County, average daily coronavirus cases have quadrupled in recent weeks and hospitalizations have tripled. Average daily deaths are also significantly up — tripling in L.A. County and close to doubling statewide in recent weeks.
As a region, Southern California has one of the highest average daily coronavirus rates of any region in California. Over a seven-day period before Thanksgiving, Southern California counties reported an average of 40 daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, the highest on record so far in the pandemic. That’s more than twice as bad as the San Francisco Bay Area, which reported an average of 17 daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.
But the surge in cases has been climbing so fast, and hospital beds are filling up so quickly, that officials across the state are warning that hospital beds could run short in a matter of weeks unless something is done drastically to reduce the spread of disease. Should staffing at intensive care units be stretched beyond capacity, mortality is virtually certain to worsen dramatically.
An influential model run by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says that without major changes in current policies or behavior, California is on track to double its cumulative death toll by the end of winter, from the current tally of more than 19,000 to more than 37,000 by March 1.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have tripled in the last month in both California and Los Angeles County. By Friday, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations were just short of 7,000, perilously close to the all-time high of 7,170 last set in July, during the state’s deadliest portion of the pandemic. Only a month earlier, on Oct. 28, there were about 2,400 people in the state’s hospitals with COVID-19.
L.A. County crossed a grim threshold on Friday, when more than 2,000 people were L.A. County hospitals with coronavirus infections, according to state data released Saturday; just a month ago, there were 750 people in L.A. County hospitals with the virus. L.A. County is nearing its all-time high of COVID-19 hospitalizations of 2,232, last set in July.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.