LOS ANGELES - On the heels of two highly publicized parties, one of which ended in a fatal shooting, Los Angeles County's public health director warned again Wednesday that such gatherings are forbidden under coronavirus-prevention orders, and attending them endangers the public at large.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, said infection rates among residents aged 30 to 49 nearly tripled between June and late July, and rates among those 18-29 quadrupled.
"These two age groups continue to drive new infections here in the county," Ferrer said.
She said people in the 18-29 age group now represent twice the percentage of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the county than they did in April, matching the rate of people aged 80 and over. People aged 30-49 now represent 25% of all hospitalized virus patients.
She said the county has reported hundreds of deaths among younger age groups, but noted that younger people who become infected but don't become severely ill can still pass the virus to older residents who might require hospitalization or even die.
Without specifically referencing any particular gathering, Ferrer acknowledged recent widely publicized parties that made headlines, calling such massive collections of people a "bad idea" and a breeding ground for the virus among younger residents who can in turn infect older and more vulnerable residents. On Friday night, dozens of people attended a private party at a bar in Hollywood, and earlier this week, hundreds of people attended a house party just outside Beverly Hills that ended in a fatal shooting.
"Gatherings are simply not allowed at this point under the health officer order," Ferrer said. "Because they create a lot of risk for transmission at activities that really are not essential. These parties and gatherings with people not in your household hurt all of us as we try to reduce our case rates so we can get our children back to school and get other adults back to their jobs. We ask that everyone make good decisions. Don't host large parties and don't attend a party if you're invited. It isn't worth the risk you run and it certainly isn't worth the risk you're creating for our collective recovery journey."
She expressed frustration at people who would host or attend a party.
"I do think an equally important question to ask is why so many people are willing to put our entire community at risk during this unprecedented pandemic," she said.
Driving home the point that COVID-19 can affect anyone, regardless of age, Ferrer pointed to a recently documented outbreak along USC's fraternity row that has so far resulted in 45 positive cases of the virus. She said a separate smaller outbreak occurred among another group of USC students who were studying and socializing together. She also said at least eight football players at UCLA have tested positive.
The county this week posted draft guidelines for the eventual reopening of colleges and universities, although no such institutions will be able to open for now due to the elevated number of cases. The guidelines will only become relevant when such reopenings are permitted by the state and county.
Health officials once again said Wednesday that "significant issues" in California's electronic laboratory system have led to an under-reporting of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County for at least two weeks.
The technological flaws prompted the county to reach out to individual testing facilities to verify results. The county is contacting at least 81 labs to obtain their testing results dating back to July 26 "to determine the accurate positive case count in Los Angeles County for the time period in question."
LA County reported 2,347 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, which Ferrer said is "likely an undercount." This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the county to 197,912.
The county also reported an additional 68 deaths, bringing the coronavirus death count to 4,825.
According to the county Department of Public Health, the issues with the state lab have impacted the county's reporting of positive cases and efforts to conduct contact-tracing of confirmed patients. But the issues are not believed to have caused any delays in people being notified of their test results.
The extent of the undercount due to the problems with the state lab was not immediately known. According to the county, local health officials have been aware of issues with the reporting system for about two weeks.
County officials said a system is also being put in place to have labs report positive results directly to the Department of Public Health to assure an accurate case count and expedite contact tracing efforts.
In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the list of symptoms of the virus. Congestion or runny nose, nausea, and diarrhea were added, joining the federal agency's list that already included fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell and sore throat.
Anyone who experiences these symptoms should call their healthcare provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care so that appropriate precautions can be taken.
On June 18, the California Department of Public Health issued new guidelines mandating face coverings in most situations while indoors, but also outside when a person cannot maintain six feet of social distance.
There are exemptions that include children age two and younger because of the risk of suffocation, and for people with a variety of medical or psychological issues that make mask-wearing a hazard.
The use of face coverings is believed to help slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus, without knowing it, from transmitting it to others.
Public Health continues to remind the public that while a majority of those who have died from COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions, not everyone does. Residents are urged to continue to take the necessary precautions in order to protect themselves from the virus.
In LA County, approximately 92% of all residents who died from the virus had underlying health conditions. Ferrer said this emphasizes the county's need to protect those with underlying health conditions and urges those residents to stay at home as much as possible.
She said this includes, but is not limited to, individuals with asthma, those who have had cancer, anyone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and anyone who is immune-compromised.
"If you're part of one of these groups, you need to take every precaution imaginable to protect yourself from COVID-19," said Ferrer.
Health officials say that social distancing remains our best defense against the virus, and all residents are instructed to abide by current measures in place across the state. Social distancing is not only about preventing the illness itself, but rather, slowing the rate at which people get sick.
The county's health department says that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of widespread transmission, everyone should always wear a face-covering securely over their nose and mouth and keep six feet apart from others not in their household when out and about.
Health officials say coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms. In early April, the CDC changed how it was defining risk of infection for Americans, saying anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.
Public Health says that the best protection against COVID-19 is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, self-isolate if you are sick, practice physical distancing and wear a clean face covering when in contact with others from outside your household.
Click here for a list of locations of confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.
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CNS contributed to this report.