“Cautious optimism” was the phrase of the day on Monday, July 3, as Los Angeles County public health officials outlined a drop in counts for deaths, hospitalizations and positive cases — all of which would lead, if the trend continues, to the county getting off the state’s monitoring list and easing toughened health restrictions on education, places of worship and businesses.
The grim reality was still that the disease is taking lives, and spreading:
- 12 new COVID-19-related deaths, increasing the county’s total to 4,701; and
- 1,634 new cases for a total of 193,788.
The outbreak continues to ravage communities of color with African Americans and Latinx people shouldering a heavy burden. Many work on the frontline as essential workers. Many suffer from underlying conditions that hit at the heart of the human body’s ability to fight the disease.
Out of the still sobering news locally and nationally, however, were glimmers that once again — after a kind of “shared sacrifice” of physical distancing measures — the July to August surge that crippled the first effort to battle the disease may be showing sings of leveling off.
- The seven-day average of cases in L.A. County is now at 2,600 per day. Just two week ago the county was above 3,000;
- The seven-day average positivity rate has mostly leveled off over July, between 8 and 8.8%, a noticeable drop from 9 not long ago; and
- The numbers have consistently been below 2,000 beds filled in recent days, a promising number compared to the 2,200.
“The good news is that those numbers have started to come down and we’re not seeing the increases we saw just a few weeks ago,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Ferrer said the toughened efforts to close restaurants and other establishments to indoor activities, renewed measures to enforce physical distancing at workplaces and an new emphasis on wearing masks, has resulted in the lower numbers.
“Simply put, closing the bars worked,” she said, adding that a corresponding effort to contain spread at area nursing homes and restaurants all went into the mix.
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.
Despite the optimism spurred by Monday’s numbers, public health officials noted Monday that L.A. County is by no means out of the woods.
In fact, Ferrer said the tallies are still too high for the county to be taken off the state’s monitoring list, which requires a much lower rate of transmission of the disease — 100 cases per 100,000 people. As it stands, the county is at 350 cases per 100,000 people, Ferrer said.
Ferrer said the county’s goal is to get off that list so school can reopen in earnest and other parts of the county’s “recovery journey” can kick back into gear.
As it stands, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the union representing teachers announced a tentative agreement Monday on how to proceed with distance learning this fall, with efforts focused on providing a structured school day as campuses remain closed due to the coronavirus.
The academic year will still start the week of Aug. 17 — although actual instruction will not actually begin until Aug. 20, following several orientation days. No date has been set for resuming on-campus learning, with Beutner saying the risk remains too high. But he stated: “Our goal is to have students back in schools as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.”
The agreement came Monday, as at least two Indiana schools shut back down after students and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Other districts in the state also are reporting positive coronavirus tests among students and employees.
Still, in L.A. County the numbers are better than last week.
“It’s still really high, but it does show progress,” Ferrer said.
Officials are still troubled by the wildcards, though: The number of outbreaks in businesses across the county and the limits on how far their own tools go – like contact tracing — to contain the spread.
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was “very disappointed” and “very, very concerned” after Sassafras Saloon, a Hollywood bar, was reported to have opened up for a private party Friday night that may have been thrown for law enforcement officers, possibly Sheriff’s Department deputies.
Barger said the Sheriff’s Department was investigating.
However, a spokesman for the department denied the allegations on Monday. “Reports of LASD hosting a party in Hollywood, as well as the reporting of several individuals who were identified as LASD personnel in attendance, are categorically false and appear to be a hoax perpetrated by social activists,” Lt. John Satterfield of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a statement.
Ferrer said public health was also probing the reports, as well as Alcohol and Beverage Control.
“I would urge businesses, that there is really zero tolerance for having private parties at your business…” she said, noting that it only fuels the possibility of spreading the disease and jeopardizes the work that everyone else does to help contain the spread.
Meanwhile, members of at least one group protested outside the Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon to protest what they said were policies that allegedly make workers unsafe.
Outbreaks have occurred at meatpacking plants in Vernon; the Smithfield Foods-owned Farmer John plant — where Dodger Dogs are produced — was the largest. County officials said that 153 employees tested positive for COVID-19 between March and May.
“Our Smithfield Family members are crucial to our nation’s response to COVID-19,” a Smithfield Foods representative said in a statement at the time. “We thank them for keeping food on America’s tables, and have implemented aggressive measures to protect their health and safety during this pandemic,”
The company added hand sanitizing stations and installed Plexiglass barriers on the production floor and in break rooms at the slaughterhouse to mitigate the spread of pathogens. Workers’ temperatures are screened by mass thermal scanning systems prior to entering the facility. Voluntary testing is available for free to employees.
Whether the county can continue to see its 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.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
This story was updated to reflect the correct number of total deaths in the county.
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