Kevin Cody

COVID-19 infections resume rise in Hermosa, Manhattan, Redondo

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Graph by Bernard Wong

by Ryan McDonald

Although the number of COVID-19 infections continues to tick upward throughout Los Angeles County, including the South Bay, public health officials are increasingly confident that social distancing measures, if maintained, will allow the region to avoid overloading the medical system. 

At a Wednesday afternoon briefing, Dr. Chrstina Ghaly, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said that the number of hospitalizations was levelling off, and the number of persons needing admission to an intensive care unit is likely to remain below capacity. When the county last released models of hospital demand 10 days ago, both estimates were considerably less sanguine.

But she cautioned that the models, while valuable for planning, had unavoidable uncertainty. The number of ICU beds, she pointed out, would be meaningless if large numbers of medical workers became ill and unable to staff them. And all of the projections are dependent on maintaining the restrictions called for in the Safer At Home order to limit physical contact and slow transmission of the coronavirus.

“No model is a crystal ball that can accurately and perfectly predict anything that is to come several months out. I know the uncertainty makes things very difficult. We do know that the slowing of the rate of spread of COVID-19 in the county is because of your effort, and again I’m grateful. We do have to keep this up. Physical distancing is the best tool we have,” Ghaly said.

The good news about the medical system’s ability to respond to the pandemic came despite ongoing grim numbers of fatalities and infections. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s Department of Public Health, confirmed 66 new deaths, raising the toll for COVID-19 to 729.

Almost all of the South Bay experienced an increase in COVID-19 infections over the previous week. Hermosa Beach went from 17 to 22 cases, Manhattan Beach from 55 to 63, Redondo Beach from 84 to 94. Torrance went from 159 positive cases to 220. Countywide, there were 1,318 new cases of the coronavirus, among the highest numbers the county has reported since the pandemic began, some of which Ferrer attributed to the recent arrival of a batch of lab results.

So far, about 90,000 tests have been completed in Los Angeles County, which reflects a significant increase over the last few weeks. The coming weeks will likely require testing to reconfigured so demand can better match supply. Some testing sites, Ferrer said, are finishing the day with empty slots, while others in different parts of the county remain overloaded. Testing may also need to be adjusted to reflect public health authorities understanding of the coronavirus itself. 

“There are many more people who are positive for COVID-19 and are not sick, so we have to adjust our strategies, particularly at institutional facilities,” Ferrer said.

Institutional settings, which include homeless shelters, nursing homes and correctional institutions, continued to provide a significant number of cases. Forty percent of all deaths from the coronavirus have come in institutions. The Kensington in Redondo, among the facilities experiencing an outbreak, has 19 staff at the facility and 23 residents who have tested positive.

In almost all of the centers throughout the county, testing remains available only to symptomatic and vulnerable parts of the population. Given current limitations on capacity, Ghaly said that negative test results for those lacking symptoms did not have “broad usefulness.” Institutional settings may be an exception.

Currently, infection control in institutional settings focused on those who were symptomatic. But plans are being made for more widespread and frequent testing of both staff and those living in the facilities, in order to enable effective quarantine and isolation measures. Ferrer also said that five officials from the Centers for Disease Control would be stationed with the county health department over the next two weeks to focus on nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, and that the county would be delivering 2.8 million masks to those institutions over the coming week.

“We need to be able to test all residents and employees for the virus, regardless of whether they show symptoms or they don’t,” Ferrer said. “And we have to be able to maintain this level of testing for months, so that we can immediately isolate someone, even when they’re not sick.”

Scientists’ understanding of the virus continues to shift rapidly. Health officials in the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday identified a death from COVID-19 that occurred weeks before what was previously thought to be the first death from the coronavirus. Ferrer said it is likely Los Angeles County’s current death toll is also understating the true number, because testing was not occurring in January and early February. She said that Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the county’s Medical Examiner-Coroner, would be doing some retroactive investigations to see if a cause of death should be adjusted, but cautioned that some deaths are too far back in time and will likely be missed.

And on Monday, the county released the results of a serology study, which detects the presence of antibodies for COVID-19, but does not tell whether the person has an active infection. The study, conducted with USC using a sample of 1,000 people designed to mirror the population of the county as a whole, indicated that antibodies may be present in about 4 percent of the county’s adult population, some 30 times greater than the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.

Ghaly said that the county would continue conducting randomized serology tests, but cautioned that scientists did not yet know whether the presence of antibodies indicated full, or even partial, immunity to COVID-19. 

“Until we know more, we wouldn’t use it to make clinical care decisions, or decisions on whether you’re safe or not safe. But it does help us understand how the virus is spreading through our communities,” Ghaly said.

To see more graphs by Bernard Wong examining COVID-19 cases, see subliminalmachines.com/dashboard/. 

 

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