Is Los Angeles going to be the next New York when it comes to coronavirus?
Coronavirus cases have risen dramatically over the last week, and officials warn that things will get much worse in the next few weeks.
“A week or two from now, we will have images like we’re seeing in New York here in Los Angeles.” Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday
It will be bad — but how bad remains a question.
L.A. vs. New York
The mortality rate in L.A. County is about 1.8%, which is higher than the mortality rate in New York City and the United States overall, Ferrer said.
One factor in that is that Los Angeles County has tested far few people than New York, meaning it does not have as good a sense of the number of people with the virus. Almost 11,000 people had been tested in L.A. County as of Thursday, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
By contrast, New York City had reported 25,000 confirmed positive cases, she said.
So that rate will likely change as more people in L.A. are tested.
Los Angeles reported five more deaths Friday, bringing the county’s total to 26. The county reported an additional 257 cases Friday, bringing the total to 1,481. Of that total, 678 cases were reported over the last 48 hours.
“In less than a week ... we’ve more than tripled the number of people here in L.A. County who are positive for COVID-19,” Ferrer said.
She warned that if the county did not slow the spread of the virus, the region’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed.
Epidemiologists say they expect L.A. County’s case numbers to continue to grow, but that the social distancing recommendations may help stave off an outbreak as bad as New York’s. The measures went into effect in California early enough that they could have a significant impact, experts say.
New York City has more than 23,000 cases and more than 500 deaths.
Dr. Jacob Quinton, an internal medicine physician at UCLA, said doctors in L.A. and other cities that have not been hit yet as badly as New York are preparing for what the next weeks may hold.
“Many of us are sort of taking a deep breath before the plunge, and getting ready to meet the challenges that come,” he said. “Those that are already inundated with COVID cases are in the thick of a fight that feels very much like the defining medical challenge of our lives.”
What is the trajectory?
Ferrer said that our understanding of the outbreak and its trajectory will probably improve as testing increases and provides more data on how quickly the virus is spreading.
“The modeling is only as good as the data you have to enter into the model, and we’re really at a disadvantage here in L.A. County and the rest of California because we just haven’t done a lot of testing yet,” she said at a news conference Friday.
However, she said she thinks it is entirely possible that case numbers will continue to increase for three more weeks in L.A. County, as a recent University of Washington projection suggested. The model projected that California coronavirus cases would peak on April 25. It projects a total of 6,109 deaths through Aug. 4.
“I think those projections are probably on target given what we’re seeing,” Ferrer said of the April 25 peak date suggested by the researchers. Ferrer said she expects case numbers to continue to double every four to six days for weeks, given the rapid rise that has been seen so far in the region.
She pointed to case numbers tripling over the last six days.
“Given what we know about spread from other places and given what our numbers are ... you can see that we’re likely to have a lot of people here that are going to be infected over the next three weeks. And that being said, the most important thing I think for the public on the modeling is to really understand the seriousness of what lies in front of us — which is a large number of people can easily get infected if we’re not doing everything in our power to make that a little bit harder,” she said.
The very nature of virus makes it harder.
“None of us have immunity, and that’s a real disadvantage when you have a virus like COVID-19 that seems to be so easily spread when people are in close contact with each other,” she said.
“The numbers can get huge, which means the implications for the healthcare system are equally dramatic. Without slowing the spread we could easily overwhelm our system here in L.A. County and the entire healthcare system in California,” she said. “That’s why we plead with people — do your part.”
Indeed, L.A. residents can make a difference. Social distancing laws that took effect over the last week could make a major difference — but probably aren’t reflected in the current surge of cases.
“I will anticipate that we will continue to see increases in hospitalizations and deaths but I think we should be able to see some leveling off of those numbers in a couple of weeks because of the physical distancing measures,” UCLA epidemiologist Dr. Robert Kim-Farley said.