While new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County have been on a downward trend, health officials are still advising residents not to travel ahead of the upcoming spring break season as transmission remains high.
Anxiety over spring break travel is rising after a particularly grim few months when case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths spiked dramatically after the end-of-year holiday season. And with several strains of the coronavirus circulating within the county and across California — including some variants that are potentially more transmissible — health officials worry that spring break getaways could threaten recent progress.
“We may just be weeks away from reducing transmission in L.A. County enough so that additional re-openings are permitted,” LADPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Thursday. “However, with increased case numbers in other states, and more circulating variants of concern, spring travel can lead to another surge that frankly would be almost impossible to tolerate.”
The nation’s largest county saw its peak in early January, with an average of about 15,000 new cases a day during the first week of the year. Over the past week, L.A. County has averaged about 1,500 reported cases a day — the lowest level since early November.
Officials say L.A. County’s turnaround from its post-holiday surge was fueled prominently by the collective actions of residents and businesses to tamp down transmission of the coronavirus. But conditions could once again begin to deteriorate if too many people don’t remain vigilant.
Although the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been falling in recent weeks, L.A. County is still regularly topping 100 deaths per day and more coronavirus variants are appearing that could more quickly spread through a community still struggling to get fully vaccinated.
During a news briefing Wednesday, Ferrer said the county has now confirmed its first case of a variant first discovered in Brazil, and the number of cases of a variant that originated in the United Kingdom has shot up to 27, a 50% jump from the 18 cases known as of last week.
“While COVID-19 numbers have decreased, transmission remains widespread here in L.A. County and in many states and countries,” county health officials said in a news release Thursday. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 during this pandemic.”
Officials urged residents to avoid all non-essential travel and to stay within 120 miles of their home, unless it’s essential. L.A. County also still has a travel advisory that requires anyone arriving in the county to self-quarantine for 10 days.
“Travel increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19,” Ferrer added. “To avoid this, please postpone travel and continue doing your part to slow the spread so that our recovery journey isn’t sidelined.”
The county on Thursday reported 2,253 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 1,198,098. An additional 119 deaths related to COVID-19 were also reported, which brings the total to 21,778 deaths.