As Dodgers and Lakers win, coronavirus spreads at celebrations, alarming health officials

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 11: Los Angeles Lakers fans gather near the Staples Center to celebrate the Lakers 106 - 93 game 6 over the Miami Heat on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Lakers fans gather near Staples Center in downtown L.A. to celebrate the Lakers NBA Finals win over the Miami Heat. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Southern California counties are reopening their economies at a slower pace than other parts of the state, and officials blame celebrations. Lakers and Dodgers viewing parties and public events are keeping coronavirus infections high enough to hold the region back, officials warn.

California has avoided the substantial spike in coronavirus cases seen across the country this fall, but some of the state’s most populated counties — Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino — remain in the most restrictive reopening tier.

That means indoor dining rooms are shut, as are indoor operations of gyms and houses of worship. San Diego County, now in the red tier, is teetering on backsliding into the most restrictive category.

Public health officials have identified gatherings as a significant source of virus transmission in Southern California, where young adults are driving the spread of the highly contagious disease.

There are also troubling signs of a potential increase in coronavirus cases. Even after accounting for a backlog, Los Angeles County has gone from about 940 daily new cases at the beginning of October to nearly 1,200 new cases each day as of last week, based on the date of a positive test or the first onset of symptoms, said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health.

Officials are worried that the post-season success of the Lakers and the Dodgers may be playing a role in the increased coronavirus cases.

“Gatherings in large crowds to watch games indoors, people aren’t wearing their face coverings, people are yelling a lot — that’s just not sensible,” Ferrer said.

Even congregating at outdoor restaurants, while shouting and cheering and hugging strangers without wearing masks, makes it “so easy to spread this virus,” she said.

About 55% of people who knew of a possible exposure to the virus also attended a gathering where two or more people were sick, the county said, based on interviews with the newly infected or people who were in contact with them over the last three weeks.

Coronavirus cases, dated by the date of a positive test or symptom onset, have been rising in recent weeks in L.A. County.
New coronavirus cases, dated by the date of a positive coronavirus test or onset of symptoms, have been rising in recent weeks in Los Angeles County. (Los Angeles County Department of Public Health)

Other parts of Southern California are seeing similar trends.

“We’re seeing more spread at family and friend gatherings,” said Corwin Porter, public health director for San Bernardino County. “It seems to be more prominent in our younger populations — our under-40 crowd, for the most part.”

Among newly infected people who said they attended some kind of large gathering in the previous month in San Bernardino County, 61% attended gatherings of friends or family in the previous month, according to data from the second full week of October.

In Riverside County, public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser expressed dismay about a crowd of more than 1,000

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Lakers, Dodgers fans helping drive uptick in LA virus cases

The success of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers are bringing fans together in the LA area and that may be helping drive an uptick in coronavirus cases, Los Angeles County’s top health official said Monday,

The Lakers won the NBA championship two weeks ago and the Dodgers are one game away from winning the World Series. Their run through the playoffs has prompted watch parties and celebrations.

Los Angeles County is the nation’s largest, with 10 million residents, and positive cases there increased this month from an average of 940 per day to nearly 1,200 last week, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.


She praised fans’ “incredible spirit,” but “the downside of this is that during a pandemic some of the things we’ve done in the past just don’t make sense.”

Health officials have warned of a second wave of virus cases and Ferrer said LA County’s increase wasn’t immediately apparent because of a backlog of cases due to technical issues with data collection systems.

“We’ve been seeing, first, very low case numbers a couple weeks ago and then in the last few days very high case numbers,” she said. “Now that we’ve processed the backlog of cases from the state, and analyzed the numbers by episode date, it is clear that our cases increased. This increase is not as steep as what we saw in July, but this is a cause of concern.”

Health officials rely on having accurate data to forecast surges in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, intensive care needs and deaths. California overall has reported steady numbers even as there have been surges in many other states.

State officials also use the data to determine whether counties can advance to less restrictive tiers in the state’s four-stage, color-coded system. Los Angeles County remains in the most restrictive tier while most San Francisco Bay Area counties have moved to fewer restrictions and San Francisco itself is in the most permissive category.

As a result of problems from the backlog, statewide reported cases jumped from 2,940 on Wednesday to 6,141 on Thursday and remained above 5,000 newly reported cases on Friday and Saturday before dipping back to 2,981 on Monday.

The state Department of Public Health, in a note on its tracking web page, said that the daily number of new cases included an estimated 2,000 backlog cases from Los Angeles County. State officials on Monday did not immediately provide more details, or explain what the county said were “processing issues in the state’s reporting system that resulted in a large volume of duplicate records being sent to LA County.”

Neighboring Orange and Riverside counties said they did not have a backlog, and none was reported by other major counties.

A much larger backlog problem involving up to 300,000 records overwhelmed California’s infectious diseases reporting system in August and forced it to hasten the creation of a new dedicated data collection system. The state’s public health director abruptly resigned days later.

The LA County backlog that resulted in the

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