Officials said the increase in disease transmission largely reflected infections that occurred before the start of demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man killed after a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground by the neck. Floyd died May 25.
The incubation period for the coronavirus infection can generally last as long as two weeks.
Newport Beach police enforce closures along the Wedge in Newport Beach, a popular surf spot. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Spectators along the Wedge in Newport Beach, a surf spot, on July 4. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
A bicyclist rides along Highland Avenue with the pier closed to beachgoers on July 3 in Manhattan Beach. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
Peter Gratzinger of Pacific Palisades heads to the water at Santa Monica State Beach, which opened to the public at 5 a.m. July 6. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)
A bicyclist with her child rides along the closed bike path on July 3 in Manhattan Beach. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
A police officer and a lifeguard boat comb the shoreline in Venice Beach on July 5. Even though the beach was closed over the weekend a few still made their way to the shoreline. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
No-parking signs from the July 4 weekend still block spots on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica on Monday. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)
Dusk sets in over the the Santa Monica Pier on Friday. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
Southern California residents watch the fireworks during the Drive-Up 4th of July Spectacular at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base on Saturday in Los Alamitos. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
Bella Nousiainen, left, with daughter, Helmi Nousiainen, of Los Angeles, at the Santa Monica Pier, which reopens after being closed to guests for months because of the coronavirus. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
Dr. Jamie Taylor checks the ventilators at the refashioned St. Vincent Hospital. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Shoppers and mannequins wear protective masks in the Los Angeles downtown garment district on Thursday. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
Patrons wear face coverings at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday. A recent surge in COVID-19 cases in California has pushed the state’s total past 200,000 with more than 5,800 deaths. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)
LAPD officers E. Rosales, left, and D. Castro, patrol the Metro Red Line at the Hollywood/Highland Metro Station Thursday. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
Visitors wear protective masks while walking through historic Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
People wait in line to have a COVID-19 screening administered by the Community Organized Relief Effort at the Los Angeles City Mayor’s test site at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
A woman adjusts a protective mask while walkiing along Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Ti mes)
Cameron Johnson,18, left, headed to UC Berkeley in the fall and Simona Krasnegor,17, headed to UCLA in the fall, watched the sun set while sitting next to the Manhattan Beach Pier, following their drive-through graduation from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
Jair Guido, 36, a veterinarian visiting from Durango, Mexico, right, wearing a sombrero with an American flag draped over his shoulders, walks with other pedestrians along Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. Guido said that he wore this outfit to show people that he is proud to be a Mexican and that he loves America. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A mask-wearing skateboarder and her dog make their way along the boardwalk in Venice Beach. Californians must wear face masks in public under a coronavirus order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Pedestrians, some with face coverings, some without, walk past musicians Brent Kendell, background left, and Sam Jones, background right, as they perform at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Hollywood. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
People wear masks while walking along the boardwalk in Venice Beach. Californians must wear face masks in public under a coronavirus order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Pedestrians cross the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Hollywood. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public, following growing concerns that an increase in coronavirus cases has been caused by residents failing to voluntarily take that precaution. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Sophia Strauss, left, and Sarah Hoffmeister celebrate after their drive-through graduation from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
New West Charter School vice principal Mark Herrera shouts at graduate Joe Reid to come and receive his diploma during a drive-up graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 at the charter school in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
A worker directs drivers at a drive-up testing site for COVID-19 outside of Jackie Robinson Stadium at UCLA.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
Destiny VanSciner is tested for COVID-19 with an oral swab by family nurse practitioner Anniesatu Newland at a walk-in site at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Melissa Gomes fixes the tassel on the mortarboard of Sarah Anggraini as the new graduate gets ready for a photo at Chaffey College, which held a drive-through graduation, in Rancho Cucamonga. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Maricela Moreno, manager at El Tarasco in Marina del Rey, disinfects cash at the restaurant. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Mildred “Millie” Stratton waves to a caravan of cars led by Alhambra police officers and firefighters. The parade past her home celebrated Stratton’s 102nd birthday. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Eric Larkin hands an order to Brittany Wright as she fastens her face covering outside the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
A jogger passes Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles as local stay-at-home orders are increasingly relaxed months into the coronavirus outbreak. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Hikers and bikers traverse the Santa Fe Dam trail as county parks officially reopen to the public. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A woman, masked against COVID-19, walks past a building that features the image of Britney Spears at a shopping center in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Manon Guijarro, a new graduate of Pierce College, has her photo taken by friend Paige Johnson at Chris Burden’s outdoor work “Urban Light” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Mary Perez, a salesperson at High Class Jewels on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, helps a customer as he tries on a gold rope chain inside the recently reopened store. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
Professional dog walker Lindsay Rojas takes golden retrievers Gomez, left, and Nikki for a stroll along Le Bourget Avenue in Culver City. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying team banks over downtown Los Angeles in formation to salute healthcare workers and first responders on May 15. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Morales, center, a member of the USC class of 2020, participates in virtual graduation via Zoom with her brother Manny Morales, left, mom Pilar Morales and stepdad Victor Ramos from her home in Orange. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
On a recent day, there’s not a face mask in sight as a roller skater and others share the reopened walking path on the Strand in Manhattan Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Crew members of a Hainan Airlines flight walk through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a shuttered business in Long Beach. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
Thousands of rental cars are stored at Dodger Stadium as the coronavirus crisis has caused rentals to nosedive. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
Some beachgoers actively use the beach while others relax on the sand, despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s active-use-only order, in Huntington Beach. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
Traveling nurse Gail Cunningham waves thanks outside the emergency room entrance to Riverside University Health System in Moreno Valley as residents pay tribute to her and other medical personnel with a drive-by rally. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
A scene from “Knives Out,” with actor Don Johnson, seen at the Mission Tiki Drive-in Theatre in Montclair. Opened with one screen in 1956, the Mission Tiki expanded to four screens in 1975 and began renovation in 2006, updating to FM transmitters and digital projectors. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
But now, health officials are detecting an uptick in disease transmission. It comes as more businesses are reopening, and more people are returning to old routines. Over the weekend, some shopping centers and public spaces began to see bigger crowds, with only some wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
At its worst, the county’s “effective transmission rate” of the coronavirus was quite high — 3 to 3½ — meaning one infected person on average transmitted the virus to an average of three or 3½ other people. That high point came in March before Gov. Gavin Newsom implemented California’s stay-at-home order.
Eventually, the stay-at-home order worked, and the effective transmission rate fell to 1, and then even a bit below 1. That means that, on average, each infected person was transmitting the virus to fewer than one other person.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of health services for L.A. County, said Friday the effective transmission rate had now risen above 1 and was gaining ground.
“While we don’t know precisely yet how reopening and the recovery activities will affect transmission of COVID-19,” Ghaly said, the transmission rate “does appear now to be greater than one, and slightly uptrending.
The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, including cases, deaths, closures and restrictions.
“If transmission has indeed increased,” she added, “then the model predicts that we will have a continued increase in hospital patient volume over the next two to four weeks, and we would anticipate beginning to see that change happen over the coming one to two weeks.”
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 started to tick upward last week after falling to their lowest pandemic level on May 31, when the daily number of those hospitalized for confirmed and suspected coronavirus infection fell to 1,908. That was down from a peak of around 2,600 in early April.
But by Thursday, the number of people hospitalized had risen to 2,048. On Saturday, it was at 1,981.
Ghaly said it was possible the number of intensive care beds could become inadequate in the next two to four weeks based on the number of currently available beds in daily hospital surveys among the county’s public and private hospitals.
“We must all do everything we can to keep the [transmission rate] from continuing to increase,” Ghaly said.
In the Bay Area, San Mateo County — sandwiched between San Francisco and Silicon Valley — is also seeing an increase in its coronavirus transmission rate.
San Mateo County, which has a population of about 770,000 people and is home to tech giants including Facebook and YouTube, was once a hotbed of coronavirus transmission, with an effective transmission rate of 3 to 4. San Mateo County is just northwest of Santa Clara County, one of the nation’s first centers of the coronavirus pandemic.
But after joining with five other Bay Area counties in implementing the nation’s first regional shelter-in-place order to combat the coronavirus, the effective transmission rate fell to 0.9, meaning that for each person infected, that person on average transmitted it to fewer than one other person.
“Anything above 1 is not good, and the higher it gets above 1, the worse it is in an exponential manner,” Dr. Scott Morrow, the San Mateo County health officer, said in a statement last week.
Yet Morrow now suspects the transmission rate is up to 1.3. Despite that, he has continued to slowly loosen stay-at-home orders, although not nearly as quickly as L.A. County has. Although in-restaurant dining was allowed to resume in L.A. County two weeks ago, only outdoor dining was allowed to resume last week in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Marin counties.
Despite more coronavirus cases and deaths per capita, Los Angeles has moved faster to loosen social distancing requirements than the Bay Area.
San Francisco and Alameda counties have taken even stricter approaches: San Francisco has no plans to allow outdoor dining to reopen until mid-June, and Alameda County hasn’t yet said when it will allow outdoor restaurant dining.
None of those six core Bay Area counties have allowed hair salons to reopen, and some have not allowed indoor churches to resume operations. Only outdoor religious services are allowed in Santa Clara and Marin counties; San Francisco may not reopen places of worship until next week.
Morrow said his goal was to ease the stay-at-home order as fast as he could “without being reckless.”
“We are certainly in the midst of the biggest disaster of our lives,” Morrow said in his statement. “Pandemics are a spark that can, if not carefully managed, cause a global conflagration. The profound economic shock of this pandemic will be larger than the Great Depression.
“If you have any worry at all about the virus and its effect on you, your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors or others, you should know, it is not completely safe to be out, it is even less safe to attend gatherings of any size,” Morrow said.
Health officials have always expected the disease transmission rate to increase as the economy reopens. What officials are hoping for is an uptick that the hospital system can handle.
“It’d be one thing to see a slight increase, which we would anticipate from having more people out and about. What we have to avoid is that huge increase that causes a threat to our healthcare system,” Los Angeles County’s director of the Department of Public Health, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, said last week.
Rong-Gong Lin II is a Metro reporter based in San Francisco who specializes in covering statewide earthquake safety issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bay Area native is a graduate of UC Berkeley and started at the Los Angeles Times in 2004.
Colleen Shalby is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She has covered education, the pandemic, the vaccine rollout and breaking news throughout California. She was part of the team that was a 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist for coverage of a dive-boat fire off the Santa Barbara coast. Shalby grew up in Southern California and graduated from George Washington University. She previously worked for PBS NewsHour and joined The Times in 2015.