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Coronavirus could be leveling off in L.A. County, new more optimistic forecast says

Downtown L.A. at sunset
Physical distancing is working and needs to continue, county officials said Wednesday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County health officials offered slightly rosier projections Wednesday about the trajectory of the virus in Los Angeles county, but cautioned that the improved outlook was contingent on residents continuing to practice physical distancing.

Presenting a new update to the county’s coronavirus model, Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, said that while COVID-19 cases are not yet decreasing here, “it is leveling out, which is a good thing.”

“Ten days ago, our best prediction was that we were going to see a continued increase in the daily number of new patients, but we weren’t sure how rapid that rise would be and how steep that slope would be,” Ghaly said. “Instead, as a result of physical distancing, our current projection is that the number of new cases will remain steady.”

Based on the new predictions — which Ghaly cautioned are inherently uncertain — officials continue to expect to meet demand for hospital beds and ventilators. Notably, the county’s ability to meet demand for intensive care beds has improved; while initial modeling said there was a 50% chance there would not be enough ICU beds, now the model indicates the current available beds will be sufficient.

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Officials now predict roughly two in 20 Angelenos, or 11% of the county, could contract the virus by Aug. 1 under the current level of physical distancing. That’s a substantial reduction from the model’s original estimate that 30% of county residents could be infected.

Dr. Roger Lewis, a biostatistician and chairman of the emergency medicine department at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said the original 30% prediction reflected the average of numerous possibilities, including a potential spike in cases or a slower spread.

“Luckily — and this is good news — the number of cases has been in the lower range of the uncertainty we had with the prior model,” said Lewis, who directs the county model.

Both Ghaly and Lewis emphasized the more optimistic projections are thanks to the county’s physical distancing measures — and warned that if such efforts were abandoned, the prospects could turn grimmer.

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“We do have to keep this up,” Ghaly said, noting that even as county officials look to relax their stay-at-home order in the coming weeks, there will still be a focus on maintaining distancing when people are out in public.

“I know it’s hard. I know a lot of us are feeling the weight of these restrictions and are eager to be able to get out of our houses more and back to work and back to school,” Ghaly said. “But please know that your actions have saved lives, and are protecting the life and health of those around you and those you love.”

“This will end, and until then, thanks for your perseverance in these difficult times,” she added.

The forecast comes despite an uptick in recent days in both deaths and confirmed cases.

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Los Angeles County health officials announced an additional 66 coronavirus-linked deaths Wednesday, bringing the total number to 729 since the outbreak began.

Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, also confirmed 1,318 new COVID-19 cases — pushing the cumulative total to 16,435.

The latest victims include 48 people who were over the age of 65, 13 people who were 41 to 65 years old and two people who were between 18 to 40. Ages were not available for the other three.

“This underscores the need for all of us to do the best job possible to make sure people who have serious health conditions are able to stay home and stay safe,” she said.

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As of Wednesday, there were 1,791 COVID-19 patients hospitalized countywide — with 30% of them in intensive care and 19% on ventilators, according to Ferrer.


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