LOS ANGELES, CA — Orange and San Diego counties have finally made it off California’s Coronavirus watch list, which means schools there could soon reopen. But Los Angeles remains firmly stuck on the list.
L.A. County was one of 35 counties on the watchlist as of Monday. Though Los Angeles meets five of the six benchmarks to be released from the list, the county continues to have too many new cases per 100,000 residents to make it off the watch list. As a result, neighboring counties are likely to serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, showing whether school reopenings in Southern California will lead to new surges.
At the current rate, Los Angeles County may begin easing restrictions and reopening schools weeks after other Southern California communities. County health officials will likely be watching neighboring counties closely to study the effects of school reopenings.
School and health officials in Los Angeles have expressed a determination to move forward cautiously. The Los Angeles Unified School District has said it will have testing in place for staff, students, and their families before reopening.
The Los Angeles County Public Health Department is urging cautious optimism.
“Cautious reopening doesn’t mean that everything will go back to normal and that it will return to the way it was before COVID-19,” said Dr. Muntu Davis, county health officer. “Cautious reopening means we take to heart the lessons we learned from July and move forward in a new normal of making them part of the infection-control practice of our day-to-day lives for the foreseeable future.”
“Together we must all take our roles seriously and be diligent,” Davis said. “It is everyone’s goal to get to a place where we have a safer reopening. But community transmission rates must continue to decrease if we are to get to this place, including where schools can reopen in a way that is safer for students, teachers, and staff members.”
Los Angeles County is trending in the right direction, said Davis. Deaths and hospitalizations are down as well as testing positivity rates. But he also offered a reminder that past complacency and deviations from health orders led to upward spikes that could be repeated.
“The work we have all done as a community and the sacrifices we are making are working,” Dr. Muntu Davis said. “We’re preventing COVID-19 infections, including serious illness and deaths. Second, if we can maintain this lower transmission, it means that we could begin to think about schools and more businesses reopening or someday moving their operations back indoors.
“But what I’d like to stress is the importance of all of us learning from our recent past and the spikes in cases, hospitalizations as well as deaths in our community that we experienced in July,” he said. “As we continue our journey of recovery, we must all proceed with caution. All of us must own our roles in this recovery.”
Davis announced 13 new deaths from the coronavirus, while Long Beach health officials reported two more, raising the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 5,560. Davis also confirmed 1,198 new cases, while Long Beach reported 36, and Pasadena health officials announced 8 lifting the cumulative number to 232,937. The number of people hospitalized in the county stood at 1,219 as of Monday, continuing a plunge from late-July averages of over 2,000.
Davis walked through charts showing the trajectory of the key virus- tracking numbers — daily numbers of new cases, positivity rates, hospitalization numbers, and deaths. In each case, the numbers climbed dramatically in mid-July on the heels of widespread business reopenings and the Fourth of July weekend. The number has since trended downward, following tight restrictions such as forcing many businesses to operate outdoors only.