As Coronavirus Outbreak Worsens In SoCal, Newsom Issues Warning

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Gov. Gavin Newsom Newsom threatened to withhold funding from counties that don't enforce health orders. Rising hospitalization rates could stymie reopenings. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Newsom threatened to withhold funding from counties that don’t enforce health orders. Rising hospitalization rates could stymie reopenings.

By Paige Austin, Patch Staff   |

LOS ANGELES, CA — The number of new coronavirus cases reported in Los Angeles County Wednesday dropped significantly following a week in which new cases spiked dramatically. However, the data represents a lone bright spot amid a flood of reports showing that California — the Southern counties, in particular — is struggling to contain the outbreak since emerging from the shutdown.

Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the trend Wednesday with a combination of pleas and threats to get residents and county officials to do more to tackle the outbreak.

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“I’m not naive. People are mixing and that is increasing the spread of this virus. It shouldn’t surprise anybody. Not only as we reopen our economy but we begin to reopen our households and we begin to go back to our old ways and our old habits, the consequence is we are spreading this virus. And it is incumbent on us to recognize that. … It is our behaviors that are leading to these numbers and we are putting people’s lives at risk,” he said. “Washing your hands isn’t just putting your damn hands, forgive my language, under the faucet for two seconds and calling it a day,” he said. “We’ve all seen that. Many have done that …but in this pandemic, come on. We can do a little more and a little bit better.”

Newsom said Wednesday morning that across the state, the number of people hospitalized has jumped by about 29% over the past two weeks. In fact, the four counties surrounding Los Angeles have played an outsized role in driving up the state’s total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations between Memorial Day and last week, according to analysis by the Los Angeles Times. Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside all saw notable spikes in hospitalizations while Los Angeles experienced a significant drop in hospitalizations during that time period. However, this week, Los Angeles County saw hospitalizations increase for the first time in a while.

Newsom on Wednesday took direct aim at communities that may not be taking health directives to curb the coronavirus seriously. The governor threatened to withhold state funding to counties that fail to enforce health directives such as the statewide mask requirement. Toward that end, he said that state funding will be doled out on a monthly — not annual — basis so the state can ensure ongoing adherence to health restrictions. The announcement comes just days after Orange County’s sheriff said he had no plans to enforce the directive.

“We cannot support bad behaviors, but we want to encourage and support good behavior,” Newsom said. “And if counties simply are going to (flout) the rules and regulations that they attested to, the information that they put online and said, `We agreed to this criteria.’ … If they decide, `well, you know what, even though the numbers are going up, we’re done, we’ve got this, we’re just going to … dismiss these new rules and regulations’ — we’re going to attach some considerations, some consequences to that. There’s $2.5 billion in this budget that simply will not flow to those counties that do that.”

He said he does not anticipate taking such action, insisting that health officials across the state have been cooperative and done all they can to implement regulations to control the virus — to the point that some, including Los Angeles County public health director Barbara Ferrer, have been receiving death threats.

But there are concerning signs in Los Angeles County, too. The rate of people testing positive for the virus has been on the rise. As of Tuesday, the seven-day average of positive tests was 8.8%, up from 5.8% just two weeks ago. Newsom said a similar spike in the positivity rate was being seen statewide.

Thirty-four additional deaths due to the coronavirus were reported Wednesday by Los Angeles County health officials, along with more than 1,260 new cases, while the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 continued its slow upward climb.

In Los Angeles County, the number has been slowly climbing for the past week, and as of Wednesday, the number stood at 1,556, up from 1,515 on Tuesday. The county Department of Public Health noted this week that the number is still less than the pandemic peaks of more than 1,900 patients, and there is no immediate threat of hospitals becoming overwhelmed with patients.

In a bit of good news, Los Angeles County reported only 1,260 new cases, ending a stretch that saw the daily number top 2,000 four times in the past week.

The 1,260 new cases reported by the county, along with another 132 reported by Long Beach health officials, lifted the overall county total to 89,622.

The county also reported another 34 deaths from the virus, although one of those fatalities was actually reported Tuesday afternoon by Long Beach. Long Beach announced one additional death Wednesday.

The new deaths increased the countywide total to 3,206.

Unlike previous large jumps in daily cases, county public health director Barbara Ferrer said this week that the recent increases were not attributable solely to backlogs in test reports from testing labs. Instead, she said the increases were indicative of increased community spread of the virus, likely the result of more people being out of their homes as sectors of the economy reopened.

Such a rise was anticipated when the county began reopening businesses about a month ago, leading to more people being out of their homes and interacting with other people. Although no clusters of cases have been specifically linked to recent mass protests against police brutality, Ferrer said it was also highly likely that those marches — many of which included large numbers of people without masks and ignoring social-distancing mandates — caused more spread of the virus.

Continued increases in hospitalizations and positivity rates in testing could raise the possibility of the county re-imposing business closures and stricter stay-at-home orders to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

“Public Health will monitor the data closely to see how increases in cases and rates of positivity affect the number of daily hospitalizations over the next few weeks,” according to a Tuesday statement from the county DPH. “Our collective goal is to prevent an overwhelming surge of COVID-19 cases at health care facilities.”

City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.

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