LA County health experts warn of a potential rise in COVID-19 cases if safety precautions wane

Health officials in LA County are warning of a potential rise in COVID-19 cases if the public becomes lackadaisical when it comes to safety precautions.

Currently, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are experiencing a decline in coronavirus cases.

"Our case numbers now are at the levels we saw early in the pandemic," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

LA County has administered 3,234,989 doses of the coronavirus vaccines, and 1,057,794 second doses as of March 17. However, Dr. Ferrer is warning about a potential rise in cases.

"I want to note when you see that in one week cases soared in places like Michigan where they're now back at 3,000 cases a day, that gives us cause for concern here. There's never been a time during this pandemic where what's happened around the country or the rest of the world hasn't at some point impacted us here in LA County so we're going to continue to move cautiously and slowly," said Ferrer.

Ferrer said the UK variant is circulating in places like Michigan and Florida, but not in California.

"We saw a slight decrease in our numbers here from our lab reports. We've never really had it account for much more than about 10% of the sampling we've done," she said.

Ferrer said there are concerns about the "California variant."

"The variant that has dominated in circulation here in LA County has been what's called the California variant. At times, more than 50% of our samples have in fact shown that people were positive with the California variant. That variant has been labeled a variant of concern because there is increasing evidence that the California variant is also likely to be more infectious which would in fact explain why we saw such a proliferation of cases during the surge," she said.

She spoke about methods to stop a variant from becoming dominant.

"For all of us, the best way to stop a variant of concern from becoming more dominant is to stop transmission. I know that folks would like us to move more aggressively in the reopenings. Everyone is exhausted by this pandemic and the restrictions but we don't want to do anything that makes it easy for our community transmission rates to go back up. Not only is that a disaster all around because we have more community transmission and that translates to outbreaks and places newly reopened like schools, but it's also a disaster because it allows a variant many more opportunities to become dominant so for the next two, three, four weeks we have to be extraordinarily careful here since we have a lot of reopenings," said Ferrer.

Dr. Christina Ghaly said officials are keeping an eye on the "R," which is the average number of people each person with a disease goes on to infect.

"These are small changes but the 'R' has been creeping up now steadily for the past two to three weeks and we want to watch that closely and want people to do everything they can to be able to keep their own behavior in a manner to reduce transmission as much as possible," said Ghaly.

Ghaly is reminding people to stay vigilant.

"Please keep caution to the basic things that we know stop the transmission of this virus within our communities. It's the simple things. It's continuing to wear face coverings, your mask, when you go outside and around others outside your household. It's keeping your distance as much as possible and washing your hands," she said.

Dr. Ferrer said she will be giving updated numbers on variants within the community next week.

According to data, 21 states in the United States are now experiencing spikes in daily infection numbers, and several countries in Europe are returning to lockdowns.

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