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Hopeful signs for LA County in fight to halt COVID-19 spread

July 30, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this July 22, 2020, file photo, people line up behind a health care worker at a mobile Coronavirus testing site at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County is seeing some hopeful signs amid the coronavirus surge. The county reported Wednesday that COVID-19 hospitalization and transmission rates are dropping. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
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FILE - In this July 22, 2020, file photo, people line up behind a health care worker at a mobile Coronavirus testing site at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County is seeing some hopeful signs amid the coronavirus surge. The county reported Wednesday that COVID-19 hospitalization and transmission rates are dropping. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County is seeing fragile progress in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, with hospitalizations and the rate of transmission slowing even though thousands of new cases are being recorded, officials said.

The nation’s most populous county could see the number of hospital cases decline slightly over the next four weeks if the “encouraging” trend holds, Dr. Christina Ghaly, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said Wednesday.

With 10 million residents, the county has the largest single chunk of COVID-19 cases and deaths in California. Both surged in early June after state and local stay-at-home orders were eased. The increases continued into July, with health officials blaming lack of physical distancing and mask-wearing at social gatherings, some businesses and Fourth of July holiday outings.

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Statewide, California reported 197 additional deaths on Tuesday — a grim new daily record — and nearly 8,800 newly confirmed cases. The state now has had more than 466,500 cases and more than 8,500 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Los Angeles County has had a significant role in those figures, with more than 183,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,500 deaths.

On Wednesday, the county reported more than 4,800 additional cases and a daily record of 91 deaths. But both included delayed reports from last Thursday through Sunday from the state’s electronic lab reporting system.

The number of fatalities has generally been decreasing since May, county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

Hospitalization figures remained high but there was a slight decline that appears to be based on two factors, officials said: People following virus safety measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, and Gov. Gavin Newsom reimposing some shutdown orders several weeks ago because of a troubling rise in the state’s caseload.

LA County reported that 2,045 people were hospitalized, 28% of them in intensive care units. But the number of new hospitalizations is showing a “very gradual downturn,” Ghaly said.

The county estimated that one in 450 residents was infectious, which was down from one out of 320 last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had warned the situation in LA had become so tenuous that a city lockdown might be needed. But on Wednesday, he said there wouldn’t be any additional closures if hopeful signs continue.

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“People have received the message loud and clear” to follow virus safety measures, Garcetti said. “It shows that our actions work.” He urged people to keep taking measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

“This is a make-or-break moment for Los Angeles in our response to COVID-19,” he said.

Officials also reported that the projected transmission rate of the virus is now less than one. Statistically, that means an infected person is, on average, passing on the virus to less than one other person. Last month, the rate had jumped to more than three.

The decline in the transmission rate means that only 15% of county residents will have been infected by COVID-19 by December, while higher rates could bump that up to 50%, Ferrer said.

“The point being, that as a community we are again absolutely able to get this virus under control,” Ferrer said. “We have accomplished a great deal just by controlling our own behaviors in just a few short weeks.”

But she added: “Whether this is a trend that we’ll be able to sustain over the coming days and weeks remains to be seen.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Weber contributed.