Los Angeles Coronavirus Update: Grim Thanksgiving Day Numbers Presage Dark December

Tom Tapp
·7 min read

Los Angeles County reported 5,087 new cases of Covid-19 and 37 additional deaths on Thanksgiving Day, one of the highest single-day case totals of the entire pandemic. The number of county residents hospitalized with the coronavirus jumped from 1,298 last Friday to 1,809 reported on Thanksgiving. That’s a 28% rise in 7 days.

County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said on Wednesday that the number of people hospitalized due to the virus has jumped by 70% in the past two weeks. The county is now averaging about 300 new admissions daily.

There are about 24,000 hospital beds in county, according to Los Angeles County’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Paul Simon. If the rise in hospitalizations were to continue at today’s rate, by year’s end there would be another 10,000 Covid-19 patients in county hospitals. They would occupy fully half the beds. That’s aside from all the other maladies that send people to the hospital.

But the number of cases is still rising. That means the number of hospitalizations will also rise far beyond 300 a day. In fact, health officials say 12% of those infected wind up in the hospital two weeks later. That means, using today’s case rate, in two weeks L.A. will be seeing 610 additional people hospitalized daily. And that’s not considering any rise resulting from Thanksgiving gatherings.

“Based on the current estimate for (the virus transmission rate) and assuming that there’s no change in people’s behavior that would affect transmissions, there will likely be shortages in the number of hospital beds, and especially intensive-care unit beds, over the next two to four weeks,” Ghaly said.

She said hospitals have “surge” plans to increase the number of beds, but the availability of health care workers to staff those beds and treat patients — especially the ones in the ICU — is much more limited.

The county’s state-adjusted seven-day average test positivity rate was 7.3% as of Thursday, up from 6.6% Wednesday and 5.3% a week ago. The county was reporting a roughly 3.9% rate at the beginning of November. That may not seem like a lot, but a 2% rise in positivity — over the past week — in a county with 10 million residents could mean up to 200,000 additional infections. That’s in addition to the baseline number of infections and in just one week’s time.

The county’s cumulative total of coronavirus cases stands at 383,275, with 7,580 fatalities.

The staggering numbers came one day after a much-debated ban on in-person dining took effect, with Los Angeles County health officials painting a dire picture of the current surge, saying the transmission rate has reached its highest point since March and could overwhelm hospitals within a month.

“We continue to be at a very difficult time in this pandemic, as is so much of the United States,” county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said Wednesday. “In fact, our situation is getting worse each day.”

According to current county estimates, every COVID-19 patient in the county is passing the virus to an average of 1.27 people — the highest transmission rate the county has seen since March, before any safety protocols such as face coverings and social distancing were in place.

Based on that transmission rate, health officials estimate one of every 145 people in the county are now infected with the virus and transmitting it to others.

“This doesn’t include people that are currently hospitalized or isolated at home,” Ghaly said. “This is the estimate of people that are out and about and infecting others. They may not know they’re infected. They may know they’re infected and not be isolating. But they’re out there and they’re exposing other people to the virus.”

Davis outlined other dire numbers — including a 67% increase in coronavirus outbreaks reported at general worksites in the first two weeks of November and a 200% jump in outbreaks at food facilities in that same period. He said 42 new outbreaks were reported to the county in the past day alone.

On Sunday, the county’s five-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases topped 4,000, crossing a threshold set the previous week to trigger a closure of in-person dining at county restaurants, which were already limited to outdoor seating. That closure will take effect at 10 p.m. Wednesday and remain in place for three weeks.

Davis on Wednesday again emphasized the need for the restriction, saying the current surge in cases makes it imperative to limit the potential for virus spread.

“To slow this disease at this point, limiting certain activities that can easily result in many additional cases, like outdoor dining in restaurants, and reducing the numbers of people indoors in other settings is trying to get our case rate lower so we can move to a less restrictive tier and reopen more businesses,” Davis said. “We all know what we need to do, but with cases increasing as they have, not enough people are doing it.”

The elimination of in-person dining, even on a temporary basis, has business owners fuming. The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday upheld the restriction on a 3-2 vote, sparking an outcry from restaurateurs and others who call it a death knell for small businesses.

The county, meanwhile, could soon be enacting even more stringent restrictions on a wider array of businesses. On Monday, the county’s five-day average of new cases topped 4,500, a threshold that was expected to trigger a “targeted Safer At Home order” that would prohibit all public and private gatherings an impose strict capacity limits at stores.

It was unclear when the county might enact such an order, and despite stressing the urgency of controlling virus transmission, Davis was non- committal on Wednesday about when it would happen. He said health officials were still in discussions with the Board of Supervisors about the order.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the board Tuesday that health officials were recommending that the order do the following:

-Prohibit all public and private gatherings of people not in the same household except for outdoor church services and outdoor protests, which will require masks and social distancing

-Set occupancy limits for outdoor retail businesses at 50% capacity with masks and social distancing required

-Set occupancy limits for essential indoor retail businesses at 35% capacity with masks and social distancing required

-Set occupancy limits for non-essential indoor retail businesses at 20% capacity with masks and social distancing required

-Keep beaches, trails and parks open with masks and social distancing required, except while swimming

-Permit walking, running, biking and playing outdoors with masks and social distancing

-Keep outdoor recreational facilities open for members of a single household using masks and social distancing

-Close pools that are open to more than one household other than for regulated lap swimming

-Close or keep closed some non-essential businesses, including office-based businesses, card rooms, clubs, bars, lounges, playgrounds other than at child care centers or schools, theaters, spectator performances, sporting events, bowling alleys and arcades

-Allow child care and day care centers, K-12 schools and day camps, institutions of higher education, libraries, youth sports and spectator-free pro sports to operate largely under current rules

-Continue to adhere to the state curfew prohibiting all gatherings with members of other households from 10 a.m. to 5 a.m. other than essential activities, exempting homeless individuals

A statement from the county public health department on Thursday reminded business owners that “inspectors will be out over the weekend to ensure compliance with safety measures.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

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