LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County’s health officer said Thursday investigators are looking into reports of religious institutions continuing to hold indoor services despite coronavirus restrictions barring such gatherings, and he said violation notices will be issued to offenders.
Dr. Muntu Davis, speaking to reporters in an online news briefing, stressed that large gatherings are generally barred under coronavirus health orders, but there are exceptions allowing outdoor church services and political protests — as long as attendees wear face coverings and practice social distancing.
“Unfortunately we’ve heard reports of some faith organizations operating outside of those health and safety requirements,” Davis said. “From a health and safety perspective this is of great concern given the large number of COVID-19 cases that continue to be diagnosed in Los Angeles County. I want to express my gratitude to those organizations that are adhering to the health officer order and who have found ways to worship that do not put the wider community and their congregation at risk.
“… For those (violators) for which we are aware of and are able to confirm, we will send a notice of violation requesting their adherence,” Davis said. “… We’re hoping that institutions that are in violation of the health officer order will follow the example of so many other faith institutions who hold their services outdoors with safety protocols in place. Holding indoor services for dozens or hundreds of people during this pandemic, not only are they putting the health and safety of their congregants at risk, but they’re also endangering the community at large.”
Davis referenced a March choir practice in Washington state that led to 87% of the attendees becoming infected with the virus, and two people dying.
“Certainly nobody wants a celebration of their faith or love of God to lead to such a tragic outcome,” he said.
Davis also urged residents to sign up for an ongoing text-message-based survey designed to track residents’ health. The system sends participants occasional inquiries about how they are feeling and if they are displaying any symptoms of the virus, in an effort to track health trends. Davis said more than 8,300 people have already signed up for the program.
To register, text @protect to 35134.
On Thursday, Los Angeles County reported another 41 deaths due to COVID-19 and 2,628 new cases.
To date (July 30), Public Health has identified 185,872 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 4,552 deaths due to the virus in all areas of Los Angeles County, including 2,450 coronavirus cases and 31 deaths in Palmdale; 2,020 cases and 27 deaths in Lancaster; 118 cases and 10 deaths in Quartz Hill; 132 cases and two deaths in Lake Los Angeles; 109 cases and no deaths in the Littlerock/Pearblossom, Juniper Hills areas; and 94 cases and one death in Sun Village. View the latest detailed report here.
Despite the large numbers of cases and deaths reported this week, health officials offered a generally positive portrayal of key statistics in recent days. Davis said the county’s seven-day average positivity rate had dropped to around 8.2%, which is down from double-digit levels earlier this month but still above the state standard of 8%. New hospital admissions have also been leveling off, but there have still consistently been more than 2,000 people a day hospitalized due to the virus.
As of Thursday, there were 2,022 people hospitalized due to coronavirus, according to the county.
Ferrer said the availability of intensive care unit beds and ventilators has been holding steady since April.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, also reported positive news Wednesday in terms of the rate of transmission of the virus, or the average number of people a coronavirus-positive patient infects. As of Wednesday, that average was 0.92, below the benchmark of 1.
Ghaly said the lowering of that average and the slowing of new hospital admissions coincides with the tightening of health orders earlier this month, and continued adherence to infection-control measures is critical to continue the trends.
“This is good news but one that we need to treat with caution and maintain those behaviors,” Ghaly said.