LOS ANGELES – An upward surge in COVID-19 cases continued to haunt Los Angeles County health officials Thursday, with the daily number of new cases rising to levels not seen since a mid-summer spike.
And the upcoming winter holiday season is leading to fears that extended gatherings among family and friends could exacerbate matters further.
Although the county had not officially released its daily case numbers as of early Thursday afternoon, Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health, said the number of newly confirmed cases was expected to be about 2,065.
Simon said the number was the highest seen since a summer spike in cases that began several weeks after the Fourth of July holiday.
“Again, it’s not a rapid increase, but it’s been kind of a slow, steady increase,” he said.
The county on Wednesday reported 1,843 new cases of COVID-19, saying that figure was the highest seen since late August, outside of sporadically higher reports that involved backlogs of testing results.
Echoing concerns expressed by local health officials over the past few weeks, Simon noted that Los Angeles County’s recent rise in case numbers is likely due in large part to residents gathering with people outside their own households, either at private get-togethers or at restaurants.
He said the county has no immediate plans to implement any sweeping shutdowns or other restrictions, but health officials will be watching the numbers closely.
“I think if we continue to see very slow, gradual increases, we may be willing to live with it,” Simon said. “We’re not going to do anything drastic at this point. We are, though, trying to intensify our messaging around discouraging gatherings. … We think that’s probably an important contributor.
“We understand people are getting very tired of this COVID world, and we hope that in the new year there will be some new strategies that will help us control spread,” he said. “But for the time being, definitely through the Thanksgiving and December holiday season, New Year, we really are discouraging the gatherings outside your household.”
Simon said the county’s recent case increases have not matched the “surges being reported in other parts of the country,” where some have declared the onset of a “third wave” of COVID-19.
“We do worry with the colder weather, more people being inside, the fatigue, people wanting to socialize more, with the holidays coming — all of that creates a mix of circumstances that could lead to an accelerating increase. We hope that does not happen.”
Simon raised some eyebrows during his online media briefing when he was asked about a proposal being considered in the Bay Area that would require residents who travel to other parts of the country over the holidays to quarantine for 14 days when they return.
Surprisingly, Simon said Los Angeles County actually already has such a recommendation on the books, although its not a requirement. Simon acknowledged that the recommendation probably isn’t very well known.
“There are so many guidance documents, sometimes these things get buried. That is a recommendation,” he said. “We can make something a requirement, but at the end of the day it’s only as effective as the degree to which there’s adherence to it.”
Simon said the county would be reporting another 25 coronavirus- related deaths Thursday, along with 825 hospitalizations. The hospital number topped 800 on Wednesday for the first time since September, although the count is still down from the peak of more than 2,000 daily hospitalizations in July.