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Gatherings Connected to Rise in L.A. County COVID-19 Cases

Gatherings with people outside one household continue to drive COVID-19 cases. | Courtesy photo by Marco Testi on Unsplash

Citing evidence that gatherings — large and small, public and private — are likely driving up the number of new COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County, public health officials warned Monday that upcoming holiday parties could lead to a new spike in cases and hospitalizations.

“With our cases already increasing, we are concerned about the coming months – holiday gatherings and cooler weather where people are more likely to gather indoors are perfect conditions for spreading COVID-19,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “While it is easy to believe that the virus won’t spread among your friends and family, there are so many examples that prove otherwise. Unfortunately, with just one infected person at a well-intentioned gathering, dozens and dozens of people can become infected over weeks and weeks of virus transmission. Some people will become seriously ill, and some may even die.” 

The University of Southern California’s Center for Social and Economic Research conducts a weekly representative survey with L.A. County residents about their actions through the pandemic. As cases increase in the county, survey respondents have also indicated increases in close contact between residents from different households and gatherings. This includes going to a reunion, wedding, funeral, birthday party, concert, or religious service or going to a friend, neighbor, or relative’s house or having visitors at their house.

Since April there has been a 57% increase in people reporting close contact with people they don’t live with. For the week ending Oct. 20, more than 10% of respondents reported they had been at a gathering of more than 10 people. For perspective, if 10% of L.A. County residents attend gatherings, this translates to 1 million people gathering with others not in their household. “And if we assume that 2% of people can be infected, we could possibly have 20,000 people capable of infecting others who are milling about at these gatherings, each week,” Ferrer said.

When combining information from the USC survey with information about exposures that are gathered through contact tracing, it points to increased gatherings being one of the drivers of the recent surge in cases in L.A. County, health officials said in a written statement. According to Ferrer, 10% to 15% of cases in L.A. County are connected to dining experiences. “This makes sense, because when people go to restaurants and bars, they often spend a prolonged period of time in the presence of others who are outside of their household without their face covering,” she said last Wednesday.

Public health officials caution residents that attending gatherings, even small ones, are extremely risky and can easily result in increased transmission of the virus.

The department of public health confirmed two new deaths and 1,406 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. The low number of new deaths reported Monday reflects a reporting lag from over the weekend.

The seven-day average number of cases by episode date continues to rise. Cases have increased from around 940 new cases per day in early October, to more than 1,275 new cases per day last week. The episode date is either the date a person was tested for COVID-19 or first had symptoms. 

Ferrer warned that if this this trend continues it would be not only create much concern, but it would “also mean that it is unlikely that in the next two weeks we make any movement in L.A. County” to the state’s red tier on the reopening guidelines.

As of Monday, Public Health identified 310,595 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 7,076 deaths.

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