It Could Be Weeks Before a Possible COVID-19 Surge Related to LA's Protests Shows Up

Los Angeles County's public heath director has warned that large gatherings like recent protests in Los Angeles could be super-spread-events


Any COVID-19 surge related to large protest gatherings in Southern California probably won't show up in the county health department’s data until three or four weeks, given a 14-day incubation period for the coronavirus.

Health officials and elected office-holders in Los Angeles County have expressed fear that crowded demonstrations stemming from the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody could serve as "super spreader" events and lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. Similar protests nationwide have prompted health concerns in virus hot spots.

"We urge everyone, including the people across our community who are engaging in protest, to please care for each other by practicing physical distancing as much as possible and wearing a cloth face covering when around other people. These actions are important in preventing many more cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19," Los Angeles County public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "These actions can save lives."

Many protesters seemed to be heeding her advice about wearing masks, but even peaceful crowds seen in videos were failing to maintain social distancing. Police officers forming lines to contain protesters also seem to be closer than six feet apart.

There is major concern around people who may not realize they've contracted the virus because they do not experience symptoms.

“This is a huge concern,” NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres said on the Today Show. “We do know that people who don’t have symptoms can go back and start spreading it to their communities. 

“This could start that chain of transmission across the country that we want to get under control.”

Ferrer said the numbers also might increase as state and county authorities allow more businesses to reopen, including dine-in restaurants and personal care businesses such as salons and barbershops. Those enterprises are allowed to reopen as soon as they can implement the required protocols for social distancing and infection control.

Photos: Powerful Messages of Peace and Unity at Protests in Southern California

Higher-risk businesses, such as bars and wineries without sit-down meals, must remain closed. However, many other stores that might otherwise be open were boarded up Tuesday out of fear of vandals and looters, who have used some peaceful protests as an excuse for mayhem in Santa Monica, Long Beach, Beverly Hills and elsewhere. 

Other businesses will close early due to a countywide curfew.

While protesters, many of whom skew younger, may think themselves less vulnerable to infection and illness, the latest numbers show that nearly 38% of all COVID-19 confirmed cases in Los Angeles County are among people 18-40 years old.

On Tuesday, LA County announced 60 new deaths and 1,202 new confirmed COVID-19 cases. No news briefing was held Tuesday, but the new numbers released by the Department of Public Health brought the total of deaths to 2,443. Long Beach subsequently announced five additional deaths, pushing the total to 2,448.

The new confirmed county cases, combined with another 101 announced Tuesday afternoon by Long Beach and three by Pasadena, lifted the countywide total to 57,122.

Roughly 12% of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized at some point during their illness and roughly 375 people remain in intensive care units.

Many testing sites were closed Tuesday due to public safety concerns. However, testing capacity has continued to increase countywide, with more than 633,000 individuals getting results to date and 8% of those testing positive.

NBC4's Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.

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