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L.A. County nears state’s safety threshold for positive coronavirus infections. Will it last?

A jogger passes L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles in mid-June.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations in hotspot counties, while some areas have seen signs of stability over the last week. But as July nears its end, it’s unclear in which direction the state as a whole will veer.

In Los Angeles County, 145 days after the county’s initial shelter-in-place orders went into effect, health officials reported 17 additional deaths and 2,039 more cases of the coronavirus on Monday, bringing the county’s total cases count to more than 174,000. The county on Sunday reported 10 additional deaths and 1,703 more cases of the coronavirus.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia confirmed Monday that his mother died from complications related to the virus and that his stepfather is hospitalized and on a ventilator.

“My brother and I are heartbroken. Our mother was the kindest and most compassionate person we’ve ever known,” he said.

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There are currently 2,017 L.A County residents hospitalized for the illness caused by the virus, 29% of whom are in intensive care. Those numbers do not include the city of Long Beach, where 106 people are currently hospitalized for the virus.

More than 1.6 million county residents have been tested for COVID-19, including 9% who tested positive.

There are some bright spots. Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that average daily death rate is declining for every age group, and most steeply for those over the age of 65. At skilled nursing homes, of the 12,192 residents tested for the virus between July 13-17, 351 tested positive. And of 18,669 staff members tested during that same time frame, 252 tested positive.

The county’s seven-day positivity rate, or the average number of positive test results among all those tested in that period, stands at 8.4%, according to the California Department of Public Health. That percentage places it above the state’s safety threshold of 8% but is lower than what the county has seen in weeks prior.

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In recent weeks, the county has shifted its testing accommodations to prioritize the most vulnerable residents — those who are symptomatic, work in high-risk environments, live in congregate or institutional settings or have come into contact with a person who contracted the virus. The shift in messaging comes weeks after officials stressed the need for all residents, including those who may be asymptomatic, to be tested.

But the county is far from out of the woods. As summer travel picks up, one concern is that residents visiting the county could lead to a rise in case numbers.

“That’s our biggest concern,” Ferrer said, imploring outside visitors to maintain the social contract set by the county to remain physically distant and wear a face mask — a mandate set by the state. In the absence of medical therapies or a vaccine, Ferrer said that these efforts remain critical to fight against the spread.

Ferrer said that as the county looks toward long-term recovery, three areas are key focuses: compliance, containment and collaboration.

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Compliance refers to the ongoing need for residents to wear face coverings and avoid gatherings outside of their households, as well as businesses’ adherence to county guidance.

Containment applies to the county’s testing efforts and contact tracing expansion, which is only as effective as the details provided by individuals who have tested positive. The county has previously said that many residents have declined to offer information about their employment or close contacts, citing fear over jeopardizing their housing, relationships or job status. To entice those who contracted the virus to finish the hour-long interview process, the county will begin a pilot program next week offering $20 to those who do so.

Collaboration refers to the alignment of all sectors and jurisdictions in pushing for the same safety measures.

Orange County’s seven-day positivity rate is now at 12.7%, which is higher than the state’s goal but lower than what the county has reported previously.

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The county reported 273 new cases Monday and two more deaths. On Sunday, the county confirmed 420 cases.

There are currently 661 people hospitalized for the virus, including 204 in intensive care. The number of hospitalized patients in Orange County reached 600 in early July and steadily climbed over the past month. The number of hospitalized individuals remains higher than what the county reported months ago but is not as high as the number reported in mid-July and currently is below the state’s threshold.

More than 393,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Orange County, which has recorded more than 34,600 infections.

Both Orange and Los Angeles counties remain on the state’s watchlist and are being monitored for case count and the rate of positive infections. The two counties account for the highest number of outbreaks in the state, with Los Angeles still accounting for the bulk of the state’s infections and deaths.


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