Virtually all L.A. County residents could have coronavirus by summer if physical distancing stops: Officials

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In announcing the extension of Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home order Friday, officials issued a grim warning: Nearly 96% of the county’s population could be infected with coronavirus by summer if social distancing measures stop.

“Virtually all residents in the county” would be infected by August 1 if residents stopped distancing themselves from others and everything returned to business-as-usual, the county’s Department of Health Services director Christina Ghaly said at a news conference.

Projections by the county and the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center found that social distancing measures taken by state and local officials have clearly delayed and lowered the peak of infections in the nation’s most populous county.

By continuing current physical distancing measures, it is projected that L.A. County will be able to reduce the overall infection rate among communities down to almost 30% by August, according to Ghaly.

“That’s a huge decline,” she said.

And if the county is more successful with physical distancing, it will be able to reduce that rate to less than 10% by that same time, according to Ghaly.

“Because everyone here is doing their part, because people are heeding the directives, we have in fact seen what we can confirm is in fact the flattening of the curve in a way that’s actually saving lives and allowing us to have a chance at making sure that our healthcare system remains able to serve all who need care,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director said.

But given the large amount of infected people in the county — 8,430 as of Friday — and because the virus continues to spread quickly with the vaccine still more than a year away, Ferrer said “we still have a ways to go.”

“It remains likely that current measures are not sufficient to lead to a reduction in illness over time, and therefore more effective measures will be required,” officials concluded in the projections.

L.A. County’s stay-at-home order, initially set to end April 19, was extended through May 15 and the county ordered face coverings for all essential workers.

As the virus first started spreading throughout the state and as stay-at-home orders went into effect in early March, officials have been scrambling to increase the state’s hospital bed capacity, fearing a flood of patients that can overwhelm local hospitals.

Ferrer said 2,043 people in L.A. County with COVID-19 have been hospitalized at some point — that’s 24% of all of the county’s patients. About 20% of people who required hospitalization also needed a ventilator at some point, she said.

As of Friday, L.A. county’s projections show that hospitals will be able to meet the demand when infections peak.

“According to current projections, [the hospital system] is able to manage the volume of patients with COVID-19 that we anticipate will come in the coming weeks, in addition to being able to maintain care in hospitalized settings for individuals who need hospitalization for other reasons,” Ghaly said.

As of Thursday, L.A. County had just over 1,600 available hospital beds and 277 ICU beds, according to the Department of Health Services.

L.A. County may need to add about 400 to 500 beds in intensive care units, she said.

But with the U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, adding another 80 ICU beds for patients that don’t have COVID-19, the state-leased surge hospital St. Vincent Medical Center expanding, and with public and private hospitals in the county adding more beds, officials expect the county to be able to meet demand.

With 1,400 ventilators available as of Friday, the county also predicts that its hospitals are set to help patients of the respiratory illness.

“That’s more than sufficient,” Ghaly said.

During a news conference with Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday, the state’s secretary of health and human services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said every county in California has reported less movement by residents since the orders went into effect.

He said that the state was previously worried about being faced with 700,000 hospitalizations for COVID-19 at the peak, but it seems that with residents adhering to physical distancing measures, California will see a better-case scenario.

Dr. Ghaly warned that it could all change if people stopped practicing social distancing.

“We can easily get a rise in hospitalizations if we lose focus on social distancing,” he said.

There were nearly 21,000 coronavirus cases in California with 584 deaths as of Friday, according to a tally by the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles County had the most cases of any county in the state.

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