LA County health order eases as more cases reported

Los Angeles County officials reported 1,568 newly-confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 58 more deaths on Saturday, bringing the county's totals to 72,023 cases and 2,890 deaths.  

The daunting numbers came after health orders were relaxed again in the county, allowing businesses such as museums, gyms, galleries, RV parks, and zoos to reopen as soon as this weekend, provided they impose restrictions such as ensuring social distancing and requiring face coverings for employees and visitors.  

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"For the many people across our communities who are experiencing the sadness of losing a loved one to COVID-19, we are deeply sorry for your loss," said Barbara Ferrer, director of public health.

"If you are out this weekend visiting businesses that have reopened, please remember to follow all of the directives for protecting one another from the spread of COVID-19, including keeping a physical distance of at least 6 feet whenever possible, wearing a cloth face covering when around others, and washing hands frequently." 

On Thursday, the county reported its highest single-day total of new cases since the pandemic began -- 1,857 -- although it attributed about one-third of the cases to a backlog of testing results.  

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On Friday, the county reported another 1,633 confirmed cases, pushing the countywide total above 70,000, reaching 70,476.

Ferrer again attributed about 500 of the day's new cases to a backlog of test results reported by a single lab.  

County health officials this week noted that the rate of spread of  COVID-19 was inching higher, potentially threatening the availability of intensive-care unit hospital beds within two to four weeks.  

The concerns, however, didn't stop the county from moving forward with its new health order, which as of Friday morning allowed the opening of:  
-- gyms and fitness centers;  
-- professional sports venues without live audiences;   -- day camps;  
-- museums and galleries;  
-- zoos and aquariums;  
-- campgrounds and RV parks;  
-- outdoor recreation such as swimming pools;  
-- music, film and television production; and  
-- hotels for leisure travel.  

Movie theaters are not included in the new order, even though the state has released protocols allowing them to reopen if individual counties approve.  

For businesses and attractions that do reopen, restrictions will have to be enforced, including face coverings and social distancing and rigorous cleaning and sanitation regimens.  

Just because the county has cleared the businesses to reopen does not mean all of them automatically will. The Los Angeles Zoo issued a statement Thursday saying it does not anticipate reopening until July, with officials still "making preparations" to resume operating.  

Of the people who have died from the virus, 93% had underlying health conditions, a percentage that has remained largely unchanged throughout the pandemic.  

Ferrer stressed Wednesday that the reopening of more business sectors should not be seen as an indication the county is out of the woods in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, noting, "We're still in the middle of the woods and we have a lot of risk."  

She said it will remain important for residents to adhere to the health restrictions when visiting any reopened business, and for the businesses themselves to enforce them.  

Highlighting the need for such precautions, health officials confirmed Wednesday there has been a slight uptick in the rate of the virus' spreading the county. At the height of the pandemic, people infected with COVID-19 transmitted the virus to an average of three other people.

Under strict stay-at-home orders and business closures, that number fell to below one.  

But in the weeks since businesses have been allowed to reopen and more people have been mingling in the community, that infection rate has now risen above one.

The county's medical services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said the county has enough hospital beds to handle an increase in cases, but the higher infection rate could lead to a shortage of intensive-care beds within two to four weeks.  

Ghaly said the county's modeling predicts "the spread of COVID-19 in the Los Angeles County area is likely to increase gradually over time."

She stressed that the predictions are based solely on actual hospitalization numbers, not on the increasing numbers of people who are leaving their homes and interacting with the public at newly opened businesses or -- more recently -- massive protests against police brutality.