Health official ‘cautiously optimistic’ about latest coronavirus numbers

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — With the county representing smaller shares of the state’s coronavirus cases and deaths, Los Angeles County’s public health director again expressed cautious optimism Aug. 10 about efforts to slow the spread of the virus, but said she’s awaiting an influx of backlogged testing results from the state.

“I have to emphasize the word ‘cautiously’ because although our data is showing signs of stability, everyone knows we do have a delay in getting accurate reporting from our labs,” Barbara Ferrer said, referencing a roughly two-week backlog in results from California’s electronic reporting system that stalled results of roughly 300,000 tests across the state.

“So we’ll stay in the cautious space until we actually see our numbers for the past two weeks,” Ferrer said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officer Dr. Mark Ghaly said that dramatic technology improvements were implemented over the weekend, quadrupling the state’s capacity to process test results and relay them to counties. The improvements allowed the state to clear the backlog over the weekend, but those results still need to be processed by individual counties.

While withholding judgment until seeing those results, Ferrer said the virus situation continues to improve in Los Angeles County, particularly in terms of lower hospitalizations and deaths, which were not impacted by the state computer glitch.

“Daily hospitalizations averaged less than 1,900 patients a day all of last week,” she said, adding that the number is now averaging about 1,600.

“Deaths remain stable at an average of about 37 people passing away — again, a high number and our hearts go out to everyone — for the past two weeks,” Ferrer said. “And although the data around daily cases is complicated by the missing and backlogged data from the labs, we are seeing that our daily new cases these last few days have stabilized well below the 3,000 cases we were seeing in the middle of July. It’s still a very high number but it does show that we’re making some progress.”

Ferrer reported another 19 deaths from the virus, while Long Beach health officials announced two more fatalities, bringing the county’s total since the pandemic began to 4,998. Ferrer noted that the county is now “very close to reaching a very unfortunate milestone” of 5,000 deaths.

Ferrer also announced another 1,920 new cases of the virus, a number she said she believes to be on target, thanks to resolution of the state’s technological issues. Long Beach reported another 104 cases and Pasadena added 15. The new cases increased the countywide total cases throughout the pandemic to 210,543.

Ferrer walked through a series of charts, showing that Los Angeles County — which once represented more than half of the COVID-19 deaths and cases in the state — is now responsible for lower percentages of the statewide totals.

She said the county now represents less than 37% of the state’s overall cases and less than half of the deaths.

“This trend did start to shift in mid-June, particularly when we started implementing some of our modifications and issued some new health officer orders here in the county,” Ferrer said.

But she again stressed that the positive trends don’t mean the pandemic is over or that people can let their guard down.

“This progress that we’ve made is essential as we continue building what we call our new normal this month so that we can get to a point where we’re able to reopen our schools for in-person learning and more of our neighbors are able to get back to work,” she said. “The new normal means that as individuals we’re going to make some choices. And we have to make the best possible choices we can.

“This will mean continuing to avoid crowds, avoiding being physically close to people when we leave our homes, avoiding gatherings with people we don’t live with and we have to continue to wear our face coverings.”

Ferrer praised the success of contact-tracing efforts in the county — speaking with virus-positive patients and tracking their movements to determine if others were exposed and need to be quarantined or placed in isolation. She noted that a recently enacted incentive program offering $20 gift cards for people who complete the roughly hour-long contact-tracing interview process has resulted in more cooperation with health officials.

Ferrer said roughly 4,600 gift cards have been distributed since the program began Aug. 3.

She urged anyone who has tested positive for the virus but has not heard from a contact-tracer to call the county at (833) 540-0473.

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