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As Los Angeles County’s coronavirus cases climbed past the grim milestone of 100,000, health officials announced Monday that one in 140 residents are likely infected with the coronavirus.

The estimate, along with reports of an alarming increase in the rate of transmission, prompted a dire warning that local hospitals will need to immediately ramp up their number of beds to prepare for more sick people in the coming weeks.

“We are at a tenuous moment in our pandemic here in L.A. County,” said the county’s public health chief, Barbara Ferrer, who along with Department of Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly and Dr. Roger Lewis of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center outlined troubling new projections that showed the county is nowhere near a return to normal.

The stark news arrived as the county reported a record 2,903 new coronavirus cases Monday, pushing the total number of COVD-19 infections to 100,772, largest total among the nation’s counties.

The virus’ resurgent spread has inspired moves to slow down the county’s reopening. The county will close its beaches during the July 4 weekend, officials announced Monday, a day after Gov. Gaving Newsom ordered the county’s bars and nightspots shut down. More such measures were anticipated in the days ahead.

The new projections — based on statistical modeling last week — show a county once again on the verge of an overstressed hospital system, burdened by both COVID-19 and other patients.

Those cases, said Ferrer, are the result of factors including:

  • Waves of people going back to work after months of “Safer-At-Home” orders;
  • Many businesses not adhering to social distancing rules, based on visits from county inspectors;
  • Big crowds at local beaches and other public areas;
  • At least 500,000 people who crowded into bars on June 20; and
  • Possibly the huge numbers of protesters that have filled city streets in recent weeks.

Ultimately, even as the new cases are among younger people, they all contributed to the spread of the virus.

But the new numbers were particularly discouraging, officials said, because  just one week ago, the county had estimated that 1 in 400 people were likely infectious.

Now, with the rate at 1 in 140, officials say bed capacity at all hospitals in the county is at risk — just as it was in early April, when the county issued similar warnings.

Since then, the warnings, and the restrictions that came along with them, appeared to work. People stayed home — heeding the March 19 order for only essential activities. And the curve flattened, officials said.

But in June, as those orders began to ease —  with a goal to get back to business by July 4 in L.A. County — the spread ramped up, and the numbers have taken what officials called a “stark” turn.

“Over the past week things have begun to change,” Ghaly said, lamenting an increased positivity, transmission rate and hospitalization rates. “Those curves are no longer flat and they all have a very steep trajectory.”

The latest projections translate into 0.71% of everyone in L.A. County being being currently infectious to others.

The fresh data means that a typical large grocery store or shop will likely have multiple infectious persons enter on a given day, said Lewis, chair of emergency medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance who is leading the project studies.

And those people may never show, or know, that they are infected. He noted that since April, public health officials have learned that people are most infectious just before they ever show symptoms.

With a week until another big holiday weekend, public health officials did not prescribe any broad orders to the public — but they offered blunt warnings about the future, if people and businesses cannot adhere to county and public health social distancing pronouncements.

In fact, on Monday, they sounded more like they did at the end of March and beginning of April — urging people to do only “essential” activity, and to profusely avoid gathering with people outside of their households.

“We are at risk of running out of hospital beds if we don’t take steps to increase that capacity within the next three weeks,” Lewis said.

In particular, the county’s four public hospitals are already beginning to find more room for beds.

As it stands, throughout the county, there is bed capacity of 3,000. Right now, it’s still in acceptable territory, along with ventilators capacity. But that will likely change in a matter of weeks, with the latest spike.

Because hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators, Ghaly said hospitals will now need to make room for intensive-care beds. They’ll need to begin clearing out emergency room space, once again cancel elective procedures and make room in other spaces, such as recovery wards.

However, there were no plans yet to reopen a surge hospital, officials said.

The new projections come during a moment of troubling new assessments in Southern California and across the nation.

On Sunday, Los Angeles was forced to re-close all bars after 2,542 new daily cases were discovered — the county’s second highest total yet during the pandemic.

The closures affected other counties — a function of people in close social situations having to remove face covering to drink while they may be socializing with people not in their households.

The 20 new confirmed coronavirus deaths added to a toll of 3,305 people who since March have died from the virus.

While the average number of deaths have gone down of late, physicians, public health experts and the state’s governor are concerned that because death is a lagging indicator, that number could rise in the coming weeks.

As of Sunday, there were 1,717 people hospitalized. It’s a high number compared to the 1,350 to 1,450 daily hospitalizations seen in recent weeks.

Some public officials have argue that there’s more people testing positive because there’s simply more testing.

As of Sunday, more than 1 million people have been tested in the county, with about 9% of them testing positive. But the rate at which they are testing positive is also increasing — a sign that the virus is not slowing down in the population. Ideally, the rate would be coming down because more people were being tested. The cumulative positivity rate has increased from 8% to 9%, and the 7-day average of the daily positivity rate has increased from 5.8% two weeks ago to 8.7%, according to the county’s public health department.

The new projections contrast to early April — when fears about the virus were climbing and there was still much not known about how it spreads.

Back then, the models showed that if social distancing was maintained at current levels, 29.8% of L.A. County’s population could be infected with the virus by Aug. 1,

However, if more physical distancing measures were put in place, it was possible only 5.5% of the population would contract the respiratory illness.

But if measures were reduced, by August as much as 95.6% of the L.A. County population could be infected.

While the new numbers are only projections, people on the medical frontline say the rise in cases is highly apparent.

“It’s just awful,” said Dr. Jennifer Sudarsky, a physician at Santa Monica Urgent Care. “It’s crazy. We’re getting a lot more patients. It’s true.”

Sudarsky, also lead physician at the county’s quarantine center in Pomona, said what she and her counterparts are seeing is validating the numbers on the public health data cases. “We’re seeing younger people.”

L.A. County, the state’s most populous county, is not alone. Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino are all seeing spikes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order on Sunday to close down bars and nightclubs included six other counties, while recommending closures in eight others including Riverside and San Bernardino.

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In Riverside on Friday, a record 318 people were hospitalized with the disease — including 105 in intensive care, according to the Riverside County public health dashboard.

And in San Bernardino County, hospitals were preparing to use extra beds as hospitalizations increase.

Governments are stepping up testing and reimposing restrictions as newly confirmed coronavirus infections surge in many countries. India reported 20,000 on Monday, while the caseload in the U.S. is growing by about 40,000 a day.

The United States on Monday reported 38,800 newly confirmed infections, with the total surpassing 2.5 million, or about a quarter of the more than 10 million cases worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Experts say the actual numbers, both in the U.S. and globally, are probably far higher, in part because of testing limitations and the large number of people without symptoms.

Beaches are closing and beer is going untapped as Florida, Texas and other states backpedal on their reopenings, ordering mandatory wearing of masks in public and closing down restaurants and bars.

News Source: mercurynews.com

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