LA County To Consider Curfews As Outbreak Takes Alarming Turn – Patch.com

LOS ANGELES, CA Los Angeles County confirmed 3,780 new coronavirus cases Saturday and 3,061 more on Sunday, a dramatic spike prompting county health officials to weigh a new round of restrictions Monday. Chiefly, officials are considering a business curfew to stop people from using restaurants as bars by gathering late in the evening over cocktails.

Though county and health officials anticipated a fall surge as new cases peak nationwide, the weekend's numbers proved unsettling to county leaders. It portends more deaths and the threat of overwhelmed hospitals. Along with the spike in new cases, the positivity rate climbed above 6 percent for the first time in more than a month. It's a sign that the coronavirus is now circulating more widely in the community. There are 1,049 people hospitalized as of Monday, and the county reported another 2,795 coronavirus cases, lifting the cumulative total to 342,343 Monday. The county's average daily rate of new cases per 100,000 residents was 13.7 on Monday, nearly double the 7.6 rate from a week ago.

"It is clear that L.A. County is at a very dangerous point in the pandemic," said Barbara Ferrer, the County's public health director.

Health officials have pointed squarely at gatherings of residents either in public or private settings for driving the recent surge, which has primarily involved younger residents under age 50.

Ferrer said she remains hopeful that if residents get back to strict adherence to protocols such as avoiding gatherings, wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing, particularly over the Thanksgiving holiday, such steps may not be needed. But she said health officials will definitely making recommendations to the county Board of Supervisors "about what to do if we don't get the pandemic back under control."

"If by us taking individual and collective actions as people and as organizations we don't get it back under control, then we have no choice but to take a hard look at what kinds of restrictions would again limit our ability to intermingle, particularly in those situations where there may be higher risk," Ferrer said. "So some of that would be looking at occupancy limits, some of that may be do we need to look at what some other states and some other cities have done in terms of restricting hours of operations. And of course if we continue on a path bound to overwhelm our health care system, we'd have to put back on the table the possibility of Safer At Home. But we're not there yet."

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin newsom announced plans to quickly roll back reopenings in communities where the outbreak is worsening. However, Los Angeles County has always remained in the most restrictive shutdown tier. Over the last month, the county has allowed limited openings of salons, tattoo parlors, breweries, wineries and schools. The county's options for rollbacks remains limited.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas reiterated Monday that the county will be discussing the possibility of additional restrictions this week, including a possible curfew for business operations or other restrictions on operating hours.

"While we should not jump to any conclusions before the Board of Supervisors has had time to fully consider all options, I trust we will be guided by ways to safely keep the economy open," he said in a statement. "We must also look for structural ways to remind everyone that the safest place to be right now is at home. Potential options could include instituting a curfew, so businesses do not have to close again. Rather, businesses would have limited hours for essential activities."

Supervisor Janice Hahn echoed that possibility, particularly for restaurants.

"The fact of the matter is, this is a dire warning to all of us. It's an alarm that the cases have spiked so dramatically," Hahn told KNX Newsradio Monday. "The suggestion is that we ask our businesses, our restaurants, to close maybe by 10 p.m. so that they don't essentially become bars where people are just sitting around drinking, laughing and talking without their masks on. So it's not a general public curfew for everybody."

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday.

Citing what he called an unprecedented spike in new COVID-19 cases, Newsom said Monday the state is hitting an "emergency brake" on economic activity, moving 28 counties -- including Orange -- back to the most restrictive tier of California's matrix governing business operations. The move means 41 of the state's 58 counties are now in the restrictive "purple" tier, which severely restricts capacity at retail establishments, closes fitness centers and limits restaurants to limited outdoor-only service. The 41 counties represent 94.1% of the state's population. Before Monday, only 13 counties were in the "purple" tier.

Newsom said daily cases numbers in the state "have doubled just in the last 10 days. This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic."

Newsom noted that the biggest increase the state had seen previously was in mid-June, when California had a 39.2% increase in new cases in one week. At the start of November, the state saw a 51.3% increase in a one-week period, he said.

He called it an "increase simply without precedent in California's pandemic history."

The spike in Los Angeles came on the heels of a week that saw cases top 2,000 almost every day. By comparison, the county was averaging 988 new cases per day in early October. The county has also seen a steady increase in hospitalizations. The number of L.A. County residents hospitalized with the virus surpassed 1,000 on Sunday for the first time in months, jumping from 966 on Saturday to 1,014, with 27% of those patients in intensive care.

Although the rate of deaths from the virus has not risen, that number is considered a "lagging indicator," meaning it tends to increase several weeks after a spike in hospitalizations.

The Department of Public Health indicated last week that the elevated number of cases in recent days reflects in part increased testing across the county. Nearly 3,386,000 individuals had been tested as of Sunday, with 9% of all people testing positive since the start of the pandemic. The recent positivity rate, which had fallen near 3%, has also been on the rise, nearly 6% as of last week.

Health officials have pointed squarely at gatherings of residents -- either in public or private settings -- for driving the recent surge, which has primarily involved younger residents under age 50. They even suggested people gathering at restaurants or at friends' homes to watch sporting events, such as the Dodgers' World Series run and the Laker's NBA championship, for pushing up cases.

Los Angeles County is already mired in the most restrictive purple tier of California's four-tier coronavirus monitoring system, placing severe limits on businesses and public gatherings. Based on the surge in cases in recent weeks, the county will be staying in that purple tier indefinitely.

The rise in cases complicates planning for increasing the numbers of students returning to schools, further re-opening additional business sectors and permitting additional activities.

"Many younger people are out socializing with non-household members, raising concerns that asymptomatic young people are helping to spread the virus to more vulnerable people at a time when cases are surging dangerously in the county," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said over the weekend.

"While the effect of the coronavirus on younger people may not be significantly associated with deaths, younger people definitely act as a transmission connector to individuals at a higher risk. Spread among family members and at worksites will also increase considerably as we see more and more cases among our younger residents," she said. "During this time of surging cases, in order to protect those most vulnerable, we ask that everyone, whether you are indoors and outdoors, keep face coverings on and stay 6 feet away from those who are older and those who have underlying health conditions. We do not want to bear witness to increased deaths among more of our beloved residents."

The state on Friday issued a travel advisory urging residents to avoid non-essential travel. It also recommends that people traveling into California -- whether they are visitors or returning residents -- from another state or country to self-quarantine for 14 days. Los Angeles County health officials have a similar recommendation on the books, urging residents to travel out of state to quarantine upon their return.

The travel warnings come two weeks in advance of Thanksgiving, which has health officials on edge, fearing that gatherings of families and friends from multiple households could become super-spreader events.

Ferrer told reporters Thursday that residents need to celebrate the holiday in a way that is respective of the pandemic. She said residents should stay at home for the holiday, and if they do gather with other people, the events need to be restricted to three households and be held outdoors for a limited time, with face coverings and social distancing.

City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.

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