L.A. County nears new milestones in coronavirus cases, deaths

San Pedro resident Jodi Hughes and her children, ages 3 and 5, joined other families for an Open Our Schools rally at L.A. City Hall on Saturday. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Fueled by a backlog of previously unreported tests, Los Angeles County on Monday was poised to surpass two unwelcomed milestones in its fight against the novel coronavirus: 300,000 cases and 7,000 deaths.

The magnitude of those figures, officials say, reinforce the importance of continued caution in the face of a pandemic that is surging to new heights in many parts of the country.

“As we move closer to the tragic milestone of 7,000 deaths in L.A. County and are seeing an increase in cases, please remember the choices we each make every day have a significant impact on whether we slow the spread of the virus,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “The virus doesn’t take a break for parties or celebrations. The best way to honor our sports teams and each other is to always wear a face covering, keep our distance from those not in our household, avoid crowds and only gather with two other households when outside.”

L.A. County’s overall case count includes 830 additional infections that were confirmed Sunday.

While case numbers are typically lower on the weekends because some laboratories that process tests wait until Monday to submit results, the relatively low total Sunday represented a welcome reprieve from three consecutive days of high positive case counts, which officials said were fueled by a backlog stemming from technical data reporting issues.

Despite the increase in cases, the county’s daily positivity rate, the proportion of those tested who are found to be infected, remained steady at 3.4% or 3.5% over the past week, health officials said.

There has been an uptick recently in the local number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients — from 722 on Oct. 19 to 785 on Sunday — though that figure remains substantially below the peak seen during the summer’s coronavirus surge.

California as a whole surpassed 900,000 confirmed cases of the virus over the weekend. More than 17,300 people have died statewide, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker.

While the state’s overall number of cases and deaths continues to be among the highest in the nation — not surprising, given it is by far the most populous state — California has, to this point, seemingly avoided the surge currently striking many other parts of the country.

The U.S. on Sunday reached a new high for the average number of new cases over a seven-day period with 68,954, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The unwelcomed tally surpassed a s previous peak of cases that came in July.

About half of states in the U.S. have seen their highest daily infection numbers at some point in October, and the country as a whole came very close to back-to-back record daily infection rates on Friday and Saturday.

As of Monday morning, there had been more than 8.6 million total confirmed infections in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. More than 225,000 Americans have died.

It’s not just the United States that’s wrestling with renewed outbreaks. Nations across Europe are enacting more sweeping restrictions to try to slow surging infection rates as a long-feared winter wave of the coronavirus seems to be materializing.

It’s amid this landscape that California health officials find themselves trying to strike a delicate balance between further reopening sections of the state’s battered economy and staving off a significant surge.

The state has implemented a color-coded, four-tier reopening roadmap, which relies on new case and testing positivity rates to determine how widely individual counties can reopen businesses and other communal spaces.

L.A. is one of 12 counties currently placed in the most restrictive Tier 1, also known as the purple tier, which indicates widespread risk of community coronavirus transmission.

For the counties in that category — which include San Bernardino, Imperial and Riverside in Southern California — many businesses and public facilities either cannot operate indoors or can do so only at a strictly limited capacity.

By comparison, only nine of the state’s 58 counties are in Tier 4 — the least restrictive “yellow” tier — of the reopening plan. Those counties, which as of last week include San Francisco, can resume most business operations with modifications.

Still, even though a broad reopening remains off the table for now in L.A. County, officials have relaxed some coronavirus-related restrictions recently.

Last week, the county revised the local health order to permit personal care services such as massage and tattoo parlors to resume modified indoor operations, eliminate a requirement that customers at wineries and breweries make reservations, remove the food service requirement for wineries, and allow family entertainment centers to reopen outdoor attractions such as go-kart tracks, miniature golf courses and batting cages.

County schools also will be permitted to bring 25% of their students back to campus at a time, provided they need special services best offered in person.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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