Indicating the coronavirus surge is not slowing, Los Angeles County public health officials Tuesday reported the highest single-day count of COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations since the pandemic hit.
The worsening conditions come as California closes many businesses that had been allowed to reopen in May as officials try to slow the outbreaks. But Los Angeles said that if the trends don't change soon, even more restrictive measures will be necessary.
Los Angeles County confirmed 4,244 new cases and 2,103 hospitalizations Tuesday. Of those hospitalized, 27% are in intensive care. The county also reported 73 additional deaths — one of the highest single-day counts reported. It's possible that number may reflect a lag in reported deaths over the weekend, officials said in a statement.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has warned that the city of Los Angeles is inching closer to the highest threat level and an imminent shutdown as dangers posed by the coronavirus continue to loom.
“While the city of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 threat level remains at orange, we are on the border of going to red,” Garcetti said Monday night. “It is up to all of us that we don’t.”
The county is not facing a ventilator or intensive care bed shortage, but the number of hospitalizations is rising. And while the mortality rate has not skyrocketed, as younger people now account for the majority of new cases, the number of infections continues to rise. Garcetti says the city is not in red-level territory yet, but that could change if the situation worsens.
“Red is when everything shuts down again to our strictest level. I do want to warn people that we’re close to that,” he said.
The virus' toll is worse in Los Angeles County and throughout the state now than in the pandemic’s history. And while some parts of the country, such as former hot spot New York, have recently reported a decline in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, California has seen a continued surge.
There have never been more infections or reported daily positive cases in Los Angeles than there are currently — a reality that continues to affect the rate of hospitalizations.
“We’ve never had as many people in the hospital as there are tonight in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday that while the mortality rate is stable, the increase in hospitalizations will probably result in increased deaths.
The sharp rise in cases can be attributed to a variety of reasons, many linked to the state's reopening strategy. Officials have reported that outbreaks at indoor work settings and factories as well as private gatherings are major areas tied to the surge.
Garcetti said the county is aware of certain clusters, such as those at garment manufacturer Los Angeles Apparel, where 300 employees contracted the virus and four have died. The mayor also said there are anecdotal reports of other outbreaks, such as one at an indoor dinner party for 30 people after a wedding that left half the diners infected.
More than 140,000 coronavirus infections and 3,894 related deaths have been recorded in Los Angeles County, the bulk of the state’s totals.
“If we were an independent country, Los Angeles County would have the 20th most cases in the world. Put differently, we have more cases in Los Angeles County than all of Canada,” Garcetti said. According to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker, Canada has recorded more than 110,00 cases of the virus.
In the absence of a vaccine or medical therapies, officials have previously emphasized the need for testing as the only true barometer of the virus’ spread, and one of the few weapons available to fight against the illness. But amid a nationwide shortage in supply and high demand in Los Angeles County that has outpaced the availability of materials, officials are now shifting their message.
Over the last week, officials have increasingly emphasized that because a test result accounts for only a single day, it is not foolproof in determining whether a person is truly negative for the virus. And in the time it takes for a person to receive a test result, the reality could change. This has always been true, but the message previously was one of widespread encouragement for the necessity of testing.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday that the state is working on new guidelines for testing to ensure that the most vulnerable have prioritized access.
"Although we want to maintain access for the general population to testing, focusing first on those whose clinical course or community can really benefit from this more targeted testing approach — not as an exclusive but as an initial priority group — is very important for us. Especially during this time where transmission is high and turnaround times have increased," Ghaly said.
The state is testing about 105,000 people a day, Ghaly said, and the cost of a test is $100 on average.
The shift in language and guidance around testing comes as California reverses course on reopenings.
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order Monday for all counties to cease indoor operations of various businesses, including restaurants, wineries and zoos. More than 30 other counties, including Los Angeles, that had previously received that mandate were instructed to impose even stricter rules by shuttering indoor operations at hair salons and barbershops, nail salons and personal care facilities, fitness center, indoor malls and places of worship.
"The virus is not going away anytime soon," Newsom said.