LA County COVID-19 trends continue improving, but gatherings threaten recovery

Los Angeles County's public health director on Monday hailed work by residents and businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19, noting that the county now meets five of the state's six coronavirus-monitoring benchmarks.  

But she warned that reckless behavior such as large gatherings, parties and indoor church services could threaten that recovery effort.  

"We know that a person can be positive for COVID-19 and able to transmit the virus to others without ever, ever having any symptoms, or even being aware that they are infected," Barbara Ferrer said.

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"If this person attends a gathering, especially indoors, where they're socializing, eating, drinking, potentially not wearing a face covering or distancing, they can easily infect many other people who are at the gathering doing the same.  

"We have many examples here in our county and across the country of gatherings, parties and services that did result in outbreaks of COVID-19," she said.

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"We've seen outbreaks on college campuses, fraternity and sorority houses, restaurants, from our protests, churches and at people's homes all across the country and some of these gatherings have resulted in tragic loss of life and serious illness."  

Ferrer declined to comment on specifics of a legal battle the county is waging with a Sun Valley church that defied health orders on Sunday and held an indoor worship service. But she said such gatherings are equally as dangerous.  

"We do continue to extend our hand to every single faith-based organization and do our utmost to help you and your congregants find acceptable ways of worshiping outdoors," she said.

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"Many houses of worship are already doing this and we thank you for your efforts. It's a wonderful show of fellowship and concern for our community."  

Ferrer continued to express overall optimism about the positive trends in most coronavirus-tracking measures.

She said the county now meets six of the state's benchmarks, falling short only in the rate of new cases, which stands at a 14-day daily average of 295 new cases per 100,000 residents.

The state benchmark is 100 or less.  

But Ferrer said the county meets other benchmarks for drops in hospitalizations, the seven-day average positivity rate -- now at 6%, testing capacity and availability of intensive-care unit beds and ventilators.  

Until the county can meet all six state benchmarks, it will remain on the state's monitoring list, which prevents the reopening of schools and many businesses. As of Monday morning, 42 of the 58 counties in the state were on the list, although San Diego County is expected to be removed by Tuesday, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.  

Ferrer announced another 19 deaths due to the virus on Monday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 5,273. She also announced another 1,185 cases, noting that the numbers of new cases and deaths are typically lower early in the week due to reduced testing and reporting over the weekend. 

The countywide total number of cases since the pandemic began was 223,131 as of Monday.  

Despite the continued reporting of new cases and deaths, Ferrer praised the work of residents to adhere to restrictions by wearing face-coverings and practicing social distancing.  

"I hope this data reminds all of us of the power our actions have in preventing serious illness and saving lives, and again I want to just say how grateful I am for everyone who's doing their part to make sure we slow the spread of COVID-19," Ferrer said.

"We do still have a ways to go to reduce community transmission enough to be able to have confidence that the timing would be right to reopen our schools and get more people back to work.  

"We don't want infections from the community coming back into our schools and creating an increase of outbreaks that then increases the amount of community transmission we're going to see."