Los Angeles in ‘dangerous phase’ as virus cases surge


LOS ANGELES (AP) – Coronavirus cases have surged to record levels in the Los Angeles area, putting the nation’s largest county in “an alarming and dangerous phase” that if not reversed could overwhelm intensive care units and usher in more sweeping closures, health officials said Wednesday.

The situation is so uncertain organizers of the 2021 Rose Parade in Pasadena canceled the New Year’s Day tradition for the first time in 75 years out of concern that even six months from now infections could spread among participants and the hundreds of thousands who line the route.

That move came two days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom shut bars and indoor dining statewide, and ordered closures of hair salons, gyms, malls and other indoor businesses in Los Angeles and other counties experiencing the most significant surge of virus cases.

In Los Angeles County, where 10 million people live, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said further restrictions are “on the table” if trend lines continue to show that hospitals could become overwhelmed.

“Do we want to go back to a safer-at-home order where close everything down again? Absolutely not. None of us want to go back there,” Ferrer said. She said people must wear masks and maintain social distancing to slow the spread.

Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state’s population, reported 2,758 more confirmed cases on Wednesday and 44 deaths. The county’s overall death total is just under 4,000.

Statewide there were 11,126 new cases on Wednesday and 140 deaths, the second-highest one-day totals.

The infection rate among those tested in LA County has been rising and now is nearly 10%, and the three-day average of hospital patients is above 2,000 for the first time. Ferrer called it “an alarming and dangerous phase” for the county.

In response, county officials said Wednesday they would greatly expand testing for people with the highest need, mainly Blacks and Hispanics in low-income communities who make up a disproportionately high number of cases and deaths.

Meanwhile, San Francisco said it would continue to delay the reopening of some businesses because of a surge of infections in the city, where the positive case rate per 100,000 has increased to nearly 8%. The goal is to keep it at around 2%, said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of public health.

“Unfortunately, we are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections that is affecting our community’s health and our re-opening plans,” he said. “As a result, we are forced to continue to pause our reopening plans until conditions improve.”

Even with the recent increase, San Francisco’s population of nearly 900,000 people has fared remarkably well during the pandemic, with a total of 4,696 cases as of Wednesday and 50 deaths.

The city has maintained some of the most stringent measures in the state since a shelter-in-place order in the San Francisco Bay Area began March 17. Unlike nearly every other county, it never reopened indoor dining, hair and nail salons, barbershops, museums, gyms, and other businesses considered high-risk for transmission of the virus.

Workers direct cars as they wait in line for coronavirus testing at Dodger Stadium Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)