LOS ANGELES - A warning again that holiday gatherings can lead to spikes in coronavirus cases, Los Angeles County's public health director said on Wednesday residents should begin planning safer ways to celebrate upcoming fall holidays, but the county backed down from its previously announced ban on trick-or-treating for Halloween.
"Our guidelines have been slightly revised, so we'd ask that people go back and look at them to distinguish between those activities that are not permitted by the health officer order -- that includes events, gathering parties -- those are just not allowed," Barbara Ferrer said.
"They're not allowed for anything. ... The only activities you can have a party or gathering for are with those people that are in your household."
On Tuesday, the Department of Public Health posted Halloween guidelines on its website stating that door-to-door trick-or-treating is banned under the county health order, as is "trunk-to-trunk" treat distribution, in which children take candy from trunks of parked cars.
By Wednesday, however, the guidelines were changed, with trick-or-treating listed as "not recommended," instead of "not permitted."
Despite that change, Ferrer still insisted that allowing children to go door-to-door during the coronavirus pandemic isn't safe.
"Trick-or-treating, we're highly recommending that it not happen," she said.
"We don't think it's an appropriate activity during a pandemic. ...You know, there's no guarantee when you go trick-or-treating that your child goes up to a house where the person who opens the door is wearing a face covering.
And when you don't know the people opening the door, there's no guarantee they're not sick and that the candy they're passing out that they've touched may not be safe for you to want your child to be sharing."
Ferrer again walked through data from the past several months showing surges in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths following the spate of public gatherings that occurred over the Fourth of July holiday.
She said that as residents prepare for fall holidays -- such as Halloween and Thanksgiving --the statistics should serve as a warning.
"Increases in cases and hospitalizations that may happen in the future will always be followed by increases in deaths," she said.
It remained too early to tell if the Labor Day holiday will lead to a spike in cases similar to that seen after the Fourth of July. Due to the 14-day incubation period of COVID-19, it generally takes two weeks to determine if such a surge has occurred.
"I do want to reinforce the need for us to remain cautious as we go about all of our business during the day and evening, remembering that we can be positive and infect others at any point in time, and others can infect us and the people that we love at any point in time," Ferrer said.
She said the county was "extraordinarily successful" in reducing case rates during August because of residents' behaviors and adherence to health orders.
"But I want to note that every time we have seen transmission rates fall, our natural response is to let up and want to return to greater normalcy," Ferrer said.
"This will be especially true as we're going into the fall and winter months when we have a number of important religious and secular holidays. But unfortunately what we have learned over the last seven months is that we cannot return to normal at this time. We actually need to maintain, even more, our vigilance so we can continue to suppress the spread of the virus and get to a place where we can safely reopen additional sectors, particularly our schools."
Ferrer announced another 61 coronavirus-related deaths in the county, bringing the cumulative countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 6,090.
She also announced another 671 new cases, lifting the overall total to 249,859.
She noted that the case number continues to be unusually low due to lags in reporting from the holiday weekend, along with the limited availability of testing due to the holiday and the excessive heat.
A total of 936 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Wednesday, continuing a roughly monthlong decline.