Los Angeles County set another record Monday for the daily number of new coronavirus cases as the public health director confirmed the area is seeing a rise in community transmission of the illness.
Health officials have warned that the reopening of businesses and recreational amenities that began about a month ago -- combined with mass protests against police brutality -- would lead to more public interaction that could in turn cause more infections, and the numbers released over the past week have seen that scenario begin to play out.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer announced 2,571 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, the highest single-day total to date. She noted it was the third time in the past week that the daily number of new cases had surpassed the 2,000 mark, but while those earlier large numbers were attributed in part to a backlog in testing results from specific labs, that wasn't the case on Monday.
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"While some of this may be due to lags in reporting, the numbers do tell us that we're seeing an increase in community transmission," Ferrer said.
Ferrer said that while the county's overall rate of positive coronavirus tests is still about 8%, the rate has been increasing over the past week. Ferrer said the average daily rate of tests that come back positive -- which is calculated by averaging results over a seven-day period -- is now 8.4%, up from 5.8% on June 12.
"And that was just 10 days ago,'' Ferrer said. "Throughout our recovery journey, we have said it's likely that the number of cases will increase as more people are out of their homes and around other people. Now it's going to be very important to watch how this increase in cases translates into our daily hospitalizations over the next few weeks."
As of Monday, there were 1,453 people hospitalized in the county for coronavirus, up slightly from Sunday.
The 2,571 new cases reported by Ferrer lifted the county's total number to 85,942. The city of Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported an additional 60 cases Monday, while Pasadena announced 15 more, lifting the overall total to 86,017.
Ferrer also announced another 18 deaths from the virus on Monday, although one of those fatalities was announced Sunday by authorities in Pasadena, which also has its own health agency. The new deaths increased the county's total to 3,137.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director, said the average number of people hospitalized on any given day due to coronavirus has remained fairly constant, and there is no immediate fear of medical centers running short on bed space. However, the increase in community transmission could threaten the availability of intensive-care unit space, she said.
Ghaly also said an analysis of case figures and estimates has found that roughly one in every 400 Los Angeles County residents are currently "infectious," meaning they have the coronavirus but are not showing symptoms and have not been formally diagnosed, and thus are not hospitalized or in isolation. Factoring in a margin of error, that number of infectious people could actually range from one in every 200 residents to one in every 750 residents.
"What this means is that Angelenos over the course of a typical day are likely going to interact with a number of people who are potentially infectious," Ghaly said. "... If one in 400 people are infected and don't necessarily know it and are able to transmit COVID-19, it's entirely possible or even likely as the Safer At Home health officer orders are pared back that an average person in the average day may come in the vicinity of others that are infectious.
"...Given how likely it that you could be in contact with one or more people throughout your normal day, it's critical to keep using those basic public health interventions and measures that we've talked about so much. Masks and face coverings help you from spreading the virus to others, a virus that you might not know that you have, and it likely protects you as well. This is why you should continue also to physically distance yourself from others whenever you can."
Ferrer said the county had identified various clusters of illness, but given the large numbers of incoming cases, authorities have not been able to specifically ``pinpoint'' whether recent mass protests were responsible for some of the new spread of the illness. But she said it is "highly likely" that they did play a role, noting that similar clusters of the illness have resulted from parties or other gatherings.
She said any situations that involve large crowds and people who are not always wearing face coverings or engaging in social distancing are likely going to result in transmission of the virus.