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New, extreme precautions urged for L.A. County residents because COVID is ‘everywhere’

Vehicles line up at the Dodger Stadium COVID-19 testing site, which reopened Monday.
Vehicles line up at the Dodger Stadium coronavirus testing site, which reopened Monday after a weekend closure to alleviate traffic in the area.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The risk of getting coronavirus in Los Angeles County has never been greater.

About one in every five people getting tested for the coronavirus are positive — a quintupling since Nov. 1.

And conditions are expected to worsen in the coming weeks as people who got infected during the winter holidays get sick.

“Everyone should keep in mind that community transmission rates are so high that you run the risk of an exposure whenever you leave your home,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Assume that this deadly invisible virus is everywhere, looking for a willing host.”

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Officials say they’re continuing to battle the notion that masks are not needed, despite overwhelming evidence that they are essential in stopping the spread of the virus.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and public health officials have expressed dismay at protesters who oppose wearing masks, including recent demonstrations at Westfield Century City mall.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented and dangerous surge,” Solis said. “Despite what protesters claim, this is not a hoax.”

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New guidance

Los Angeles County and the rest of Southern California remain under a stay-at-home order, which was extended last week. But officials are also offering more specific suggestions:

• If you’re going to work or to buy groceries, try never to remove your face covering when near others.
• Avoid eating or drinking with anyone not in your household.
• Wash or sanitize your hands every hour if you’re around others.
• Take a break from shopping.
• Don’t go to any gatherings with people outside your household.
• Exercise by yourself or only with others from your household.

“The anticipated surge from the winter holiday gatherings is done,” Ferrer said. “And tens upon tens of thousands of people are paying the price with new COVID-19 infections. The increases in cases are likely to continue for weeks to come, as a result of holiday and New Year’s Eve parties and returning travelers.”

The California Department of Public Health on Nov. 13 issued an advisory urging Californians to stay home or in their region and avoid nonessential travel, including for tourism or recreation.

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Spreading fast

Officials have said the latest coronavirus surge was caused in part by holiday gatherings, beginning with Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Infections linked to the latter two holidays will be apparent later this month, further jamming overwhelmed hospitals.

Workplaces have also been increasingly spreading the virus. Costcos, Targets, Walmarts and grocery stores have seen outbreaks, as have a variety of other job sites, including some TV production sets.

“If you had a workplace before where you had 500 workers, there might be one person who was infected, so the risk of transmitting it to a lot of people was lower,” Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County’s chief medical officer, said Sunday. “But now, with the prevalence of infection at 1% or higher, if they have 500 employees, maybe five are infected. And it magnifies the chances it can spread in the workplace.”

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Who is getting sick?

Coronavirus daily case rate by race and ethnicity:

Latino: 1,696 coronavirus cases per 100,000 Latino residents
Black: 752 coronavirus cases per 100,000 Black residents
White: 636 coronavirus cases per 100,000 white residents
Asian American: 519 coronavirus cases per 100,000 Asian American residents

COVID-19 weekly rate of hospitalizations:

Latino: 80 hospitalizations per 100,000 Latino residents
Black: 58 hospitalizations per 100,000 Black residents
White: 26 hospitalizations per 100,000 white residents
Asian American: 26 hospitalizations per 100,000 Asian American residents

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When a freezer malfunctioned, a small Ukiah hospital had to use or lose its Moderna COVID dosages quickly, becoming a case study in mass inoculation.

New records

California posted a new single-day record for coronavirus cases Monday, logging more than 74,000, according to a Times tally of local health agencies.

That is 11% higher than the previous record, when 66,726 cases were registered Dec. 28. The state is now averaging about 37,000 cases a day over the last week, down from a high of about 45,000 in mid-December. But the situation is still far worse than at the beginning of December, when 14,000 cases a day were recorded.

California also posted its sixth-highest daily tally of COVID-19 deaths Monday: 379. That raised the average number of deaths over the last week to 353 a day, the highest yet.

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Top LAFD brass are using free Lyft rides, Google Nest gear and home security systems to entice firefighters unwilling to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

In Los Angeles County on Monday, an additional 79 coronavirus-related deaths and 10,851 new infections were reported. The county is now averaging 184 deaths a day over the last week — the equivalent of someone dying of COVID-19 every eight minutes — and about 13,500 cases a day, a count expected to grow because many testing sites were closed for the New Year’s holiday.

“It’s better to be lonely than to be sick,” Ferrer said. “It’s better to care for others by following all the rules than to end up passing along the virus to someone who gets hospitalized or even dies.”

Times staff writer Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.


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