Los Angeles County, which recently appeared headed for another lockdown amid escalating coronavirus cases, now is seeing fewer hospitalizations and a lower transmission rate that health officials said Wednesday are evidence people are heeding the call to change their behavior.
The nation’s most populous county said 2,045 people were hospitalized, 28% of them in intensive care units. But the number of new hospitalizations is showing a “very gradual downturn” and projections call for a slight decline in cases over the next four weeks, said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county Department of Health Services.
The county saw 91 additional deaths — a new daily record due in part to lagging reporting — but the number of fatalities has generally been decreasing since May, county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
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Ghaly said that statistically, the transmission rate shows any infected person is passing on the virus to fewer than one other person.
“While we are seeing the results of strict adherence to best practices — like wearing the face coverings, washing hands, quarantining and isolation, physical distancing — these practices need to continue,” Ghaly said.
The county had seen drops in its COVID-19 cases after months of stay-at-home orders that shuttered many businesses, beaches and other recreational areas and banned large social gatherings. But after easing of those health orders began, the virus began surging in early June, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to reimpose some shutdown orders early this month.
The county’s declining hospitalization rate “does coincide with the paring back of reopening at the local and statewide level a few weeks ago,” Ghaly said.
Every one of California’s 58 counties now has COVID-19 cases. Modoc County on Tuesday confirmed its first two cases. The remote county bordering Oregon and Nevada was the first to defy state shutdown orders to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Statewide, California reported 197 additional deaths on Tuesday — a grim new daily record — and nearly 8,800 new cases. The state now has had more than 466,500 cases and more than 8,500 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Los Angeles County has had a significant role in those figures, with more than 183,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,500 deaths.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had warned the situation in LA had become so tenuous that a city lockdown might be needed. But on Wedesday, he said there wouldn't be any additional closures if hopeful signs continue.
The county estimated that one in 450 residents was infectious, which was down from one out of 320 last week, Garcetti said, and he urged people to follow health and safety measures.
“This a make-or-break moment for Los Angeles in our response to COVID-19," he said.
The county on Wednesday reported more than 4,800 additional cases but Ferrer said that was due to a backlog of some 2,000 positive test results from the state’s reporting system.
The decline in the transmission rate means that only 15% of county residents will have been infected by COVID-19 by December, while higher rates could bump that up to 50%, Ferrer said.
“The point being, that as a community we are again absolutely able to get this virus under control," Ferrer said. “We have accomplished a great deal just by controlling our own behaviors in just a few short weeks."
But she added: “Whether this is a trend that we’ll be able to sustain over the coming days and weeks remains to be seen.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.