Expressing cautious optimism about the success of efforts to control the coronavirus, Los Angeles County's public health director Monday said the closure of bars and elimination of indoor dining, along with cooperation from residents, have combined to slow the illness' spread.
Barbara Ferrer said the county is "cautiously optimistic that we're getting back on track'' in efforts to combat COVID-19, but added, "I want to emphasize the word 'cautiously.'"
Ferrer pointed to steady declines in hospitalization numbers, which were averaging around 2,200 patients a day in mid-July but have now dropped below 2,000, and in average daily rates of positive tests, which leveled off over the course of last month to average between 8% and 8.8% in recent days.
As of Monday, the number of people hospitalized in the county was reported at 1,784 patients.
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"Simply put, closing the bars worked,'' Ferrer said. "It also worked to limit indoor dining at restaurants and to move the operations of various businesses outdoors. This is particularly true in those places where customers were not being to be able to wear their face coverings and/or they were in crowded situations."
She also heaped praise on residents for adhering to health restrictions.
"I do want to give credit where credit is due," she said. "A large reason why we're seeing the decline is because residents heard the warning, heeded the orders and took personal basic actions that were needed to slow the virus. Folks wore their face coverings, they maintained physical distance from people they don't live with, they avoided gatherings and parties and they washed their hands."
Ferrer reported relatively low numbers of new coronavirus cases -- 1,634 -- and deaths -- 12 -- on Monday. Lower numbers are anticipated on Mondays due to lags in reporting from weekend testing sites.
The city of Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported another 77 cases Monday and one additional death. Pasadena, which also maintains its own health agency, reported 12 new cases. The new reports lifted the countywide totals since the start of the pandemic to 193,877 cases and 4,702 deaths.
Ferrer walked through statistics from the month of July, generally showing that average daily numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked in the middle of the month -- increases that were earlier attributed in part to mass gatherings that occurred over the Fourth of July weekend.
Most of those statistics tailed off toward the end of the month, although the daily numbers of deaths remained elevated, since it is considered a lagging indicator that often accumulates later on the heels of increased hospitalizations.
Whether the county can continue to see those numbers trend in the right direction will again be contingent on public cooperation, and residents' ability to avoid falling into complacency in response to improving numbers, Ferrer said.
"The question is, where do we go from here?'' she said. "For our long-term success we need to be able to limit the spread of COVID-19 for many, many weeks to come, and we need to do this while we move forward on a recovery journey. We need to understand that we are in fact creating a new normal. We can't go back to life as we knew it before March, not right now.
"A few months ago when we collectively and successfully flattened the curve and we reopened many of our key businesses and community sectors, a lot of us decided that that meant we could resume life as we knew it before the pandemic hit. We simply can't do this again. We still have a ways to go to reduce community transmission.''