As restrictions ramp up in hopes of slowing spread of COVID-19, Los Angeles County reported nearly 4,300 new cases Friday, down from Thursday's daily record but still on pace to trigger more restrictions that would end in-person dining at restaurants, and possibly prompt another stay-at-home order.
"This is a serious concern for all of us and our county, and we are busy trying to work together to take steps that would reduce potential exposures across the county," public health director Barbara Ferrer said in an online briefing.
Ferrer announced 4,272 new cases of the virus, lifting the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 357,451. The number was a dip from Thursday's pandemic high level of 5,031, but it was still well above numbers seen just a month ago.
Under benchmarks released this week in response to the surge in cases, health officials said restaurants, wineries and breweries would be closed for in-person dining if the county reaches a five-day average of 4,000 or more cases, or if hospitalizations topped 1,750.
As of Friday, the county had a three-day average about 4,415 cases per day, meaning the case numbers over the next two days will be closely watched. There were 1,298 people hospitalized in the county, Ferrer said.
If the county's five-day daily case average exceeds 4,500, or if hospitalizations top 2,000, the county will issue a strict "Safer At Home"
order like the one imposed at the onset of the pandemic. The order would allow only essential workers to leave home, or people who are accessing essential services.
"If we can't get this back under control, that is unfortunately where we're headed," Ferrer said. "… I still hope that we don't have to go to Safer At Home and that we're able in the next few days to start turning this around. But it really at this point means that things we did last week were part of a solution to turn things around.
"The other hope I have is that if that wasn't possible and people didn't make changes last week, that they're making them today so that this is of short duration," she said. "I know how exhausting that is for everyone, to continue to have to abide by rules and restrictions. I also know how exhausted our health care workers are, our essential workers are. And for all of their sakes, we need to slow down the spread and we need to do that rapidly."
The county modified its health order Friday to impose some initial restrictions, most notably requires restaurants, wineries, breweries and nonessential businesses to close between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Other restrictions that took effect Friday were:
-- indoor "non-essential" businesses such as retail stores, offices and personal care services will be limited to 25% occupancy; -- outdoor service at restaurants, wineries and breweries will be limited to 50% of the maximum outdoor capacity;
-- outdoor cardrooms, miniature golf sites, go-kart tracks and batting cages will be limited to 50% of maximum outdoor capacity; -- customers at personal-care businesses must make advance appointments, and no services that require customers to remove their face masks can be offered; and
-- outdoor gatherings must be limited to no more than 15 people from a maximum of three households.
The county previously issued guidance limiting gatherings to three households, but there was no numerical limit on attendees.
On Saturday night, the state will impose what amounts to a soft curfew that will impact all counties in the restrictive "purple" tier of the state's coronavirus monitoring system -- which includes Los Angeles County. The state's "limited Stay At Home Order" prohibits all "non-essential work, movement and gatherings" between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., beginning Saturday night and continuing until the morning of Dec. 21.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, said the order is not a hard curfew, indicating that people can still go outside of their homes, but they just shouldn't gather with others. He noted that he still plans to take his dog on its normal 11 p.m. walk.
He said there is no definitive cause for the state's sudden surge in cases.
"There is no single culprit," Ghaly said. "It's a combination of factors. It's certainly the colder weather, more mixing, which comes with more opening. … And of course greater travel. We've enjoyed some events over the last many weeks -- in my home county of Los Angeles, the Dodgers, the Lakers.
We had Halloween. We just exited Veterans Day. We're looking forward to other future events and activities as we go into the winter."
Asked about how restrictions will be enforced -- in light of Southern California sheriffs stating they won't be actively cracking down on healthorder violations -- Ferrer said the county isn't relying on law enforcement, but rather hoping residents will take the urgency to heart.
"We really appreciate that the best enforcement is voluntary compliance," she said. "We've all done really well when we've set for ourselves a goal as a community and gotten behind it. I can't think of anybody at this point who's going to argue with the fact that we need to take some action to slow the spread, because this level of acceleration threatens our health care system.
"And that threatens care for every single person in this county for people who have a heart attack, for people who need emergency surgery, for people who need scheduled surgery, for people who are victims of car accidents or trauma."
Ferrer also noted that the surge in cases is not just the result of increased testing. She said the county's rising rate of positive tests shows that the virus is spreading more rapidly. The county's seven-day average daily positivity rate among those tested for the virus was 3.9% on Nov. 1, but it rose to 5.1% by Nov. 8 and it now stands at 7.1%.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles County Health Officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, lashed out at those who have questioned the danger of COVID-19, or even deemeed it a hoax.
"The cases that we're seeing, all of the science -- this is across the world," he said. "I don't think anybody engineered a hoax to be worldwide in terms of a pandemic, let alone across the state, let alone across the region, let alone across the whole United States. These are real, these are scientific tests that are being done. The virus has been isolated from early on in the pandemic.
"… It's unfortunate that someone thinks that this isn't real."
He also bashed notions that the virus is less dangerous than the flu, noting that an estimated 3,133 people died during the 2019-2020 flu season in the county. COVID-19 has caused 7,363 deaths between March and November, despite only infecting about one-third as many residents as the flu.