For third day in a week, L.A. County reports more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases

Colleen Shalby
A drive-through testing site at Dodger Stadium in Elysian Park.  (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County health officials reported 2,571 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, the third day in the last week that the county has reported more than 2,000 infections.

The number is especially high considering that cases reported on Mondays are typically lower because of limited testing on weekends and a lag in reporting.

In addition, the county announced 18 additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the death toll to 3,137.

It's "highly likely" that the surge is connected to mass protests that erupted in recent weeks over the death of George Floyd, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

But because contact tracers do not track cases that stem from public settings, it's often impossible to pinpoint the origin of spread at such events, particularly given that the protests occurred while the county was lifting many of its stay-at-home restrictions.

Ferrer said restaurant settings and parties may also be linked to several clusters of infections in recent weeks, despite the county's ongoing prohibition of gatherings beyond religious services and political protests. Newly reopened workplaces where people are in close contact may also be a factor.

"The virus is not done with us," she said.

The county's updates followed an announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom that the state's positivity rate among those who have been tested for the coronavirus, as well as the number of hospitalizations linked to the illness, including patients in intensive care, has increased as cases have surged in recent weeks.

There have been 46,735 coronavirus cases reported in the last 14 days, Newsom said. That accounts for 36.5% of all cases. Additionally, hospitalizations have increased by 16%, and ICU patients have jumped by 11%. The positivity rate throughout the state has increased from 4.5% to 4.8%. Worse, in Los Angeles County, the rate spiked from 5.8% two weeks ago to 8.4% on Monday, Ferrer said.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of L.A. County's Department of Health Services, said one in roughly 400 L.A. County residents are unknowingly infected with the coronavirus. That number does not account for those who are self-isolating after potential exposure.

"Angelenos over the course of a typical day are likely going to interact with individuals who are infectious," she said. "These people might not seem sick."

Despite this, the estimated rate of transmission has decreased to less than one in the county's modeling system, which now accounts for people who may be immune to the disease.

The number of hospital beds, including those in ICUs, and ventilators is at capacity throughout the state, officials said. But Ghaly warned that the number of ICU beds may become more limited as COVID-19 patients compete for space with others who are hospitalized with different illnesses.

Officials have long expected the COVID-19 case count to rise as months-long restrictions were lifted across the state. As of now, there are no plans to slow reopening efforts in the county, officials said.

"We’ve always predicted that reopening would bring new cases," Ghaly said.

County officials are also looking to begin reopening their buildings to their employees and the public.

At its meeting Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion that would allow departments to begin reopening July 6 at the earliest.

Department administrators and their staffs have been working on creating phased reopening plans since early June, but how and when a department reopens will depend on its size, building setup and how its employees interact with the public, said Supervisor Kathryn Barger's office.

If the motion passes, departments would be required to submit operational plans to the county's chief executive office by July 31 outlining how they will reopen.

"These operational plans should consider telework options, staggered schedules, modified schedules and other innovative ways to continue to serve the needs of our constituents in more efficient ways that also meet the public health guidelines for operation," Supervisors Barger and Hilda Solis said in the motion.

Also on Tuesday, Los Angeles International Airport will begin testing thermal cameras to identify passengers with high body temperatures as a way of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The three cameras will scan streams of passengers arriving at and departing from the Tom Bradley International Terminal in hopes of spotting passengers with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher — a common symptom in the COVID-19 pandemic that has pushed air travel demand down to the lowest levels in decades.

Temperature checks are not a silver bullet: Health experts say people can spread the virus while showing few or no symptoms. Nor should temperature checks be the lone precaution. Other health protocols added at the airport include requirements that travelers wear masks and maintain physical distance from one another whenever possible, and LAX has installed 250 hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the terminals.

Social distancing and face masks remain key weapons in the fight against the virus' spread, in addition to testing, health officials maintain. More than 960,000 individuals have been tested for the virus in L.A. County. Of those, 8% have tested positive.

Earlier Monday, asymptomatic individuals in the county were unable to sign up for testing due to high demand. Testing has been something that officials have strongly encouraged in recent weeks amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.

The county announced Monday that despite the ongoing risk, officials will no longer hold news briefings three times a week, switching to a weekly meeting on Mondays.

The news came as Ferrer publicly revealed that she, like many health officers throughout the county, has received death threats and hate mail during the last three months amid stay-at-home orders she issued to help stem the spread of the illness.

"We’re doing the very best we can during the pandemic to save lives," she said.

Times staff writers Hugo Martín, Dakota Smith and Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.