Los Angeles County has lowered its rates of daily new cases and people testing positive for coronavirus enough to possibly move into a less restrictive stage of the state’s reopening plan.
But health officials said Wednesday it remains unclear whether that will happen anytime soon — particularly if increased transmission of the virus over Labor Day leads to another surge.
The state requires the rates to stay below a certain threshold for two consecutive weeks before a county can move ahead in the reopening tiers. And the decreased rates in L.A. County are based on the period of Sept. 6 through 12. Since that time, the county has seen a troubling but slight uptick in cases, which health officials reported over the weekend.
“Unfortunately, we did see an increase in our cases last week. We had four days where we were above 1,000 [new] cases each day,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday.
That means L.A. County could possibly not meet the threshold needed to move from the most restrictive purple tier — for counties with widespread risk — to the less restrictive red tier, for substantial risk. Orange and Riverside counties are currently in the red tier, allowing indoor operations to resume in places like restaurants and houses of worship with some restrictions on capacity and other special health measures still in place.
To make it to Tier 2, a county must lower its adjusted case rate to between 4 to 7 new cases per 100,000 residents and its testing positivity rate must be between 5% and 8%. Then, it must hold those rates down for at least 14 straight days. For the period between Sept. 6 to 12, L.A. County lowered its adjusted case rate to 7 new cases per 100,000 residents and its testing positivity rate dropped to 2.8%
But health officials said those improvements may not lead to eased restrictions under the state’s reopening system, given the higher number of cases recorded through some of last week.
“We’re not sure that we’ll have another week where an adjusted daily case rate is at or below 7 new cases per 100,000 residents,” Ferrer said. “But we are heartened that L.A. County has met the thresholds that allow us to see our progress.”
On Wednesday, the county reported another 1,265 cases of the virus and 31 more deaths.
The county’s Department of Public Health is still collecting data through the end of this week to determine whether a spike in infections follows Labor Day (Sept. 7). That’s what happened in the weeks after Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — past spikes health officials have attributed to gatherings with other households and other violations of physical distancing measures over the summertime holidays.
Labor Day weekend saw record-breaking temperatures, sending crowds to the shores of Santa Monica and spurring warnings from experts that gatherings with other households could lead to another troubling spike in cases.
Still, on Wednesday, Ferrer said the county has come a long way since infection and death rates rose significantly in July before peaking in August.
“We have made a lot of progress reducing transmission in L.A. County since we experienced that surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths starting in mid-July,” Ferrer said.