L.A. City and County COVID-19 Weekly Update (August 10, 2020)

CA Health and Government COVID-19 Guidance: Week in Review

Cautious Optimism, Despite Data Errors

Over the past week, the Los Angeles region has made progress in reducing community spread of COVID-19. However, data reporting issues create challenges in determining the accuracy of recent declines.

In a press release on Monday, August 3, 2020, the L.A. County Department of Public Health expressed “cautious optimism” that the County is “on the right path” and that community spread has slowed. In addition, the County Director of Public Health, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, stated that the County is “cautiously on track” to making progress. For example, the number of new cases has dropped to approximately 2,500 to 2,700 cases daily, and hospitalizations have stabilized. She laid out a set of goals: slowing the spread, getting people back to work and getting off the state’s monitoring list (a target of under 100 cases per 100,000 people; the County is now at 350 cases per 100,000 people).

However, last week also revealed errors in the state’s reporting of COVID-19 infection data. On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, the L.A. County Department of Public Health issued a press release noting that some of its data is incomplete. The Department said it learned of new technical issues related to the collection of test results during an emergency call with state officials in the evening of August 3. This issue has resulted in undercounting of the county’s positive cases and “affects the number of COVID-19 cases reported each day and our contact tracing efforts,” the county said. In his press conference on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, Mayor Garcetti said that these data errors may have been ongoing throughout the pandemic, and therefore may not be contributing to the recent declines we have seen.

Despite this data issue, County officials remained “cautiously optimistic” at the County’s briefing on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. Dr. Ferrer noted that while “nobody is really sure how many cases are being dropped,” other key indicators, such as hospitalizations and deaths, were not impacted by the data issues, and those indicators do show trends in the right direction. Also, L.A. County’s Health Director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, stated that as of last week, we are “definitely” seeing a downturn in new hospitalizations. The County’s transmission rate remains largely unchanged at 0.91. Dr. Ghaly also noted that our supply of hospital beds and ICU beds remains sufficient to handle anticipated need.

Education and Youth Activities

On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced that it will not consider waiver applications for schools to reopen for in-person instruction. This is because the County remains above the threshold of COVID-19 indicators set by state guidance announced on Monday, August 3, 2020.

On Wednesday, August 5, 2020, Dr. Ferrer provided an update on COVID-19 at colleges and universities in L.A. County. She said that “collegiate life as we knew it will not be possible” this fall, and that schools would need to conduct alternative programs. The County also released draft protocols that provide regulations and guidance for “all aspects of campus life.” The draft protocols cover five main areas:

  1. Workplace policies and practices to protect employee health
  2. Measures to ensure physical distancing
  3. Measures to ensure infection control
  4. Communication with employees and the public
  5. Measures to ensure equitable access to critical services

The County’s protocols will remain in draft form pending review of the state guidance for institutions of higher education, which was released on Friday, August 7, 2020.

On Wednesday, August 5, 2020, the County also provided an update on youth sports and activities. Dr. Ferrer announced that the County would bring its rules in line with recently released state guidance. Based on this guidance, such activities are only permitted outdoors and only with a stable cohort of individuals participating. Masks are not required for activities that require heavy exertion, which are only permitted outdoors, and are not otherwise required when distancing can be maintained. For sports where distance cannot be maintained, only skills training is permitted. Tournaments and competitions are not permitted in the County.

The County released its Reopening Protocol for Youth Sports Leagues on August 6, 2020.

Enforcement

Last week, Los Angeles saw a rise in private parties and other large gatherings, in violation of the City’s and County’s stay-at-home orders. Both County officials and Mayor Garcetti received questions about efforts to shut these parties down at briefings throughout the week.

At the County’s briefing on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, Dr. Ferrer noted that the County is responding to more than 2,000 complaints per week on noncompliance, but that “we will not be able to arrest our way out of the pandemic.” Dr. Ferrer suggested that the idea of having enough police to shut down all such events was “foolhardy.”

At a briefing on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, Mayor Garcetti also addressed the issue of large parties and gatherings. He announced that he authorized the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to shut off water and power services to homes where such events are taking place, both for first-time and repeat offenders, as appropriate. These actions will begin as of Friday, August 7, 2020. This move echoes a motion introduced in the City Council by Councilmember David Ryu, also on August 5.

At the County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, the Board approved a motion to create a permitting program for hair salons, barbershops and personal care establishments to operate outdoors and on public streets, rights-of-way, parking lots and private walkways to do business in the unincorporated areas of the County.

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