LA County could re-issue safer-at-home order if surge in COVID-19 cases continues

Warning that the county is facing "one of the most dangerous moments in this pandemic," Los Angeles County health officials said Wednesday that additional restrictions, and even the possibility of another safer-at-home order, are possible if COVID-19 cases and positivity rates continue to surge.

County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer said the county would re-issue a safer-at-home order if the five-day average of COVID-19 cases exceeds 4,500 or if hospitalizations exceed 2,000 per day. If that happened, the order would remain in effect for at least three weeks. 

It would also result in a mandatory 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, with the exception of essential and emergency workers, Ferrer explained.

If the county exceeds a five-day average of 4,000 new COVID-19 cases or exceeds 1,750 daily hospitalizations, the county would implement a full reclosure of dine-in services at restaurants, breweries, wineries, and bars. They would only be permitted to serve customers for pickup and delivery.

As of Tuesday, the five-day case average was 2,884. But on Wednesday, the county announced 3,944 new cases, mirroring numbers not seen since a mid-summer surge that followed the Fourth of July holiday. 

This warning comes as the county once again grapples to slow the spread of COVID-19. Ferrer said the county on Nov. 1 was averaging about 1,100 new cases a day. Most of last week, the county saw daily case numbers exceed 2,000 before topping 3,000 on Saturday and Sunday. On Wednesday, the county reported just shy of 4,000 new cases, bringing the county's total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 388,336.

"I cannot stress enough how concerning this is," Ferrer said.

The county's seven-day average daily positivity rate among those tested for the virus was 3.9% on Nov. 1, but it rose to 5.1% by Nov. 8 and it now stands at 7.1%. 

The county has also seen a steady increase in hospitalizations. The number of L.A. County residents hospitalized with the virus surpassed 1,000 on Sunday for the first time in months, jumping from 966 on Saturday to 1,014 Sunday, then up to 1,049 on Monday, 1,126 Tuesday, and 1,188 by Wednesday.

The county also reported an additional 36 deaths from the virus, raising the total number of deaths to 7,335.

Public health officials said that both coronavirus cases and positivity rates are increasing in Los Angeles County, which is a sign of increased community transmission, according to Ferrer.

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"We face one of the most dangerous moments in this pandemic," Ferrer said. "And the only effective path forward requires immediate action, and unfortunately, additional sacrifice. When the rate of increase is as high as it is right now, it can be harder to slow the spread. Heading into colder months and the flu season compounds the sense of urgency."

Dr. Christina Ghaly, Los Angeles County's health services director, says that without a rapid change in the upward trajectory of COVID-19 cases, the county is likely to see the highest numbers of hospitalizations of the entire pandemic in the next month, and they could exceed the county's hospital capacity.

"The resources (at hospitals) are not unlimited," she said.

"Our actions have consequences. Not wearing a mask has consequences," explained Dr. Ghaly. "Wearing a mask works. The mask is the single best method we have against COVID. It is the ticket to getting us back on the path towards reopening."

County officials announced that beginning Friday, all restaurants, breweries, wineries, bars and nonessential businesses will be required to close from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. Restaurants with outdoor dining, breweries and wineries across Los Angeles County will also be reduced to 50 percent capacity.

RELATED: LA County restaurants, non-essential businesses ordered to close at 10pm to curb spread of COVID-19

Ferrer said the changes to the county’s health order are intended to reduce the possibility of overcrowding at restaurants and reduce the possibility of COVID-19 exposure in situations where people aren’t wearing masks, such as when seated at a restaurant.