The number of daily coronavirus infections continued to drop Tuesday in Los Angeles County, falling below the 1,000 mark for the first time since early June and potentially opening the door for the county to grant waivers for some children to return to school classrooms.
Although case numbers are typically lower on Mondays and Tuesdays due to more limited testing results from the weekend, the county Department of Public Health reported 989 new confirmed cases Tuesday, along with 51 additional deaths.
County officials noted that as recently as late July, the county was averaging around 3,200 new cases per day.
The new cases reported by the county, along with 94 more announced by health officials in Long Beach, lifted the cumulative countywide total since the pandemic began to 233,871.
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The county on Tuesday also reported 51 new deaths, while Long Beach added five. As of Tuesday, 5,610 people have died of COVID-19 in the county.
Health officials have noted over the past week that the county now meets five of the six criteria needed to fall off the state's coronavirus-monitoring list. Falling off the list would enable the county to potentially reopen more businesses and school campuses.
The only metric keeping the county on the list is the 14-day average rate of new confirmed cases per 100,000 residents. The state requires that rate to be no more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. As of Tuesday, Los Angeles County is averaging 196 per 100,000 residents.
That rate, however, could allow the county to consider issuing waivers to individual schools or school districts allowing children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade to return to in-person classes. The state allows such waivers in counties that have a new case rate below 200 per 100,000 residents.
In a statement, however, the county Department of Public Health said "it is too early to tell" if the county's 14-day average will remain below that 200-case mark, given the traditionally lower case counts early in the week.
Barbara Ferrer, the county's director of public health, said in a statement she is "grateful for everyone's sacrifices that have resulted in slowing the spread" of the coronavirus. But she said residents need to remain diligent about continuing to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and taking other measures to protect against infection.
"Because of the lessons we learned from our explosion of cases in July, I need to ask that we continue to significantly modify our actions if we want to keep community transmission rates low,'' she said.
Health officials have noted dramatic drop-offs over the past several weeks in new cases, average numbers of deaths and hospitalizations.
As of Tuesday, there were 1,200 people hospitalized due to the virus, down from levels that topped 2,000 last month.
On Monday, county health officer Dr. Muntu Davis also reminded people about spikes in cases that occurred in July -- after more businesses were allowed to reopen and many residents took part in public gatherings over the Fourth of July weekend. That message will likely be amplified over the coming weeks, with the Labor Day holiday looming.
"The work we have all done as a community and the sacrifices we are making are working,'' Davis said Monday. ``We're preventing COVID-19 infections, including serious illness and deaths. Second, if we can maintain this lower transmission, it means that we could begin to think about schools and more businesses reopening or someday moving their operations back indoors.
"But what I'd like to stress is the importance of all of us learning from our recent past and the spikes in cases, hospitalizations as well as deaths in our community that we experienced in July,'' he said. "As we continue our journey of recovery, we must all proceed with caution. All of us must own our roles in this recovery."