LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County officials said Monday that they are "cautiously optimistic" that the actions of county residents have begun to once again "slow the spread" of the coronavirus.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re getting back on track to slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said county Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who 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.
Ferrer reminded residents that "we can't go back to life as we knew it before March.” Ferrer said that residents took previous reopenings, which the county has since rolled back on, as an opportunity to revert to pre-pandemic behaviors, such as failing to social distance or not wearing a face covering in public.
She explained that seeing a slight dip in coronavirus cases is an indication that social distancing protocols, mask mandates and business closures are helping but said that the county's positivity rate is still high enough to remain on California's "watch list," which dictates how soon business sectors in the county can, once again, reopen.
“Simply put, closing the bars worked,” said Ferrer. "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."
The county on Monday reported another 1,634 new coronavirus cases and 12 additional deaths. Ferrer said the relatively low number of new cases is likely the result of reporting lags from the weekend, meaning higher numbers are likely in coming days. The county's totals now stand at 193,788 confirmed cases and 4,701 deaths.
In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the list of symptoms of the virus. Congestion or runny nose, nausea, and diarrhea were added, joining the federal agency's list that already included fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell and sore throat.
Anyone who experiences these symptoms should call their healthcare provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care so that appropriate precautions can be taken.
On June 18, the California Department of Public Health issued new guidelines mandating face coverings in most situations while indoors, but also outside when a person cannot maintain six feet of social distance.
There are exemptions that include children age two and younger because of the risk of suffocation, and for people with a variety of medical or psychological issues that make mask-wearing a hazard.
The use of face coverings is believed to help slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus, without knowing it, from transmitting it to others.
Public Health continues to remind the public that while a majority of those who have died from COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions, not everyone does. Residents are urged to continue to take the necessary precautions in order to protect themselves from the virus.
In LA County, approximately 92% of all residents who died from the virus had underlying health conditions. Ferrer said this emphasizes the county's need to protect those with underlying health conditions and urges those residents to stay at home as much as possible.
She said this includes, but is not limited to, individuals with asthma, those who have had cancer, anyone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and anyone who is immune-compromised.
"If you're part of one of these groups, you need to take every precaution imaginable to protect yourself from COVID-19," said Ferrer.
Health officials say that social distancing remains our best defense against the virus, and all residents are instructed to abide by current measures in place across the state. Social distancing is not only about preventing the illness itself, but rather, slowing the rate at which people get sick.
The county's health department says that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of widespread transmission, everyone should always wear a face-covering securely over their nose and mouth and keep six feet apart from others not in their household when out and about.
Health officials say coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms. In early April, the CDC changed how it was defining risk of infection for Americans, saying anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.
Public Health says that the best protection against COVID-19 is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, self-isolate if you are sick, practice physical distancing and wear a clean face covering when in contact with others from outside your household.
Click here for a list of locations of confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.
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CNS contributed to this report.