Younger Residents Are Driving Coronavirus Increases in LA County, Health Experts Say

Roughly 50% of all new confirmed coronavirus cases in LA County are among residents between the ages of 18 and 40.

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The rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 is increasing in Los Angeles County, with younger residents driving up the number of coronavirus infections.

The county Department of Public Health said Monday that over the previous seven days, the rate of people testing positive for the illness was 10%, up from about 8.4% last week and above the county’s overall rate of 9% throughout the pandemic.

Roughly 50% of all the new cases being confirmed in the county are among residents between the ages of 18-40. Back in April, residents in that age group represented about 10% of coronavirus patients in hospitals, but that figure is now up to about 25%, health officials said.

Recognizing the just-completed Fourth of July weekend and the likelihood of people gathering together despite warnings to the contrary, public health director Barbara Ferrer said carelessness will only slow the process of reopening the economy.

“We are in a new chapter of our response, and unfortunately, where we are today is different from where we were two, three or four weeks ago,” Ferrer said. “Cases are surging, hospitalizations are increasing, and mostly, this is all a reflection of a lot more community spread. All of us -- businesses, individuals and here at the Department of Public Health -- we have to be willing to take action quickly as our situation has evolved.”

 “... To prevent more days with high case counts, we do need to recommit to all of the efforts that are required to slow the spread and to act together,” she said.

Ferrer reported another 48 deaths due to COVID-19, although one of those fatalities was previously reported by health officials in Pasadena. Pasadena reported one additional death Monday, while Long Beach announced two more fatalities. The new deaths increased the countywide total to 3,537.

Ferrer also announced 1,584 new confirmed cases, while Long Beach announced 93 more and Pasadena added seven, bringing the county’s overall number to 116,670 since the beginning of the pandemic.

“There’s a significant increase in the percent of cases among 18- to 40-year-old residents,” Ferrer said. “... Almost 50% of new cases occur among young people and then, those younger people are spreading the infection to others.”

She also pointed to a dramatic shift in hospitalized patients, a group that had originally been overwhelmingly aged 65 and older.

“But there’s been quite a shift over the last few weeks, as hospitalizations for 18- to 40-year- olds and 41- to 64-year-olds have increased, and the percent of hospitalizations for the 65 or older group have now gone down,” she said.

The Ebb and Flow of New Coronavirus Cases and Deaths

The graphs below illustrate the distribution of new coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. While New York accounted for the lion’s share of new cases and deaths in March and April, its numbers have declined in May as some states have increased. Hover or tap to see new daily cases and deaths across the country. States with the most are ordered top to bottom.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Looking to explain the shift, she pointed to data collected by USC researchers showing that the percentage of people who stay home and leave only for essential reasons has dropped dramatically from 86% in April to about 58% now.

That has also led to higher percentages of residents coming into contact with people outside their own households. And with more businesses reopened, Ferrer noted that 43% of residents have a job that requires close contact with other people on a daily basis.

“It’s clear that after months of quarantine, combined with the reopening of many sectors in the span of several weeks, we’ve had a lot of people disregard the very practices that allowed us to slow the spread,” Ferrer said. “And unfortunately, this cannot continue. Our inability to follow the most basic infection-control and distancing directives leads to serious illness and even the deaths of people we love and the deaths of those who are loved by others. And the evidence is overwhelmingly clear about the impact.”

“It requires us, if we do not find it in ourselves to actually continue to adhere to the social-distancing and infection-control practices, it finds us in a place where we’re slowing down our recovery journey. What we do now will determine where we are in three to four weeks.”

With that in mind, Ferrer and Supervisor Kathryn Barger said it will take a few weeks to see how well residents adhered to restrictions over the Fourth of July weekend. Ferrer noted that Memorial Day weekend marked the beginning of spikes in case and hospitalization numbers.

“I really hope that’s not what we’re going to see,” she said.

Ferrer thanked people who adhered to restrictions, but also said there have been continuing cases of residents ignoring the guidelines. She said county health inspectors were out over the holiday weekend, and they closed a “handful” of businesses for failing to comply for health regulations.

At today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl will introduce a motion, co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, that asks the county’s Department of Public Health to develop a plan on how to fine businesses that ignore the county’s coronavirus protocols and, if they continue to forgo public safety, to pull their licenses, the Los Angeles Times has reported.

Ferrer said there were 1,921 coronavirus patients in hospitals, down slightly from 1,947 reported on Sunday. The figure is still sharply higher than it was just weeks ago, when it was hovering between 1,300 and 1,400.

Health officials warned last week that continued increases could overwhelm the hospital system within a matter of weeks. The county’s health officer sent a letter to hospitals over the weekend asking them to begin laying out their plans to handle a surge if one should materialize, Ferrer said.

The county’s medical services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said Monday that updated hospital forecast numbers would likely be released this week. She said that so far, there has not been a sharp decline in the number of available beds, and while cases keep climbing, “they are at a flatter incline than where they were last week.”

Ghaly said the county was working to provide more testing availability this week, acknowledging that the city had closed the area’s largest testing site at Dodger Stadium. City officials said the closure, which began over the weekend, had been scheduled due to the Fourth of July holiday. The site is expected to reopen today.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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