While hospital beds are still available, the current trend predicts the county will run out of room in a matter of week. Courtesy image.

Coronavirus infections are growing in Los Angeles County and local officials are warning residents of more danger in the future unless immediate steps are taken to bring the infection under control.

With recent action by the state to shutter bars, officials said they were loathe to roll back any additional openings but cautioned residents against gathering in large numbers or making trips that were not essential over the coming July 4 holiday as current trends could push hospitals to capacity.

According to the County Department of Public Health, the 7-day average of daily reported new cases of COVID-19 is nearly 2,000, an increase from the 1,379 average two weeks ago. There are 1,710 people currently hospitalized, higher than the 1,350 to 1,450 daily hospitalizations seen in recent weeks.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health, said hospitalizations have not surpassed the county’s highest levels but they are quickly heading into dangerous territory.

She said officials knew there would be some kind of increase when businesses were allowed to reopen.

“What we didn’t expect however, was to see this steep an increase this quickly,” she said. “And we know that there have been many businesses, and many individuals that have done everything right from the very beginning, they adhere to every single health officer order and followed our directives, but as you’re going to see from our data, we also know that there are a number of businesses and individuals who have not followed the directives, and they’ve gone back to living as if COVID-19 is not in our community. So I need to say to all of our businesses and individuals across the county that at this point, if you’re not part of the solution to slowing the spread, you’re ending up being part of the problem.”

She said spikes in early case counts were likely due to challenges in establishing consistent testing but with the testing system now in place, a surge in cases over the past two weeks definitively indicates an increase in community transmission.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s Health Services Director, said residents needed to understand the situation was getting worse.

“If there’s one thing that you could take away from this briefing, let it be this: hospitalizations are on the rise and the county transmission has increased within our communities, and as a result we all need to be more careful about the steps we are taking to prevent transmission,” she said. “People need to pay attention to this and wear their masks and physically distance, whenever possible. It is a simple and very straightforward message, but will absolutely make a difference.”

Ghaly said it’s increasingly likely that residents will come in contact with infected individuals.

She said that last week, they estimated that one in 400 individuals in Los Angeles County was infected and not isolated, either at home or in a hospital bed and thus was capable of transmitting COVID-19 virus to others.

“Today we estimate that number is one in 140,” she said. “This is a three fold increase from what we presented last week. This means that it is highly likely that those in Los Angeles are going to interact with people who are infectious, especially as we move toward reopening.”

Ferrer said some of the blame falls on businesses who are not following the rules. She said even after three weeks of consistent outreach and education by the county, 33 percent of restaurants and 49 percent of bars contacted this past weekend were not in compliance.

“We do have data demonstrating that there have been gaps in compliance with directives, amongst businesses and the most common complaints we’ve received are around businesses not posting and completing the infection control protocols, not requiring face coverings for either employees and/or when appropriate for patrons and not enforcing physical distancing for employees and customers,” she said.

Ferrer said County officials will be working with local authorities, including beach cities, to determine if additional action is needed to prevent people from gathering in large groups and she said residents should understand they are being asked to make a temporary change in behavior for the greater good.

“You know this is not forever,” she said. “This is not even for an entire other year. This is a temporary set of steps that we’re asking everyone to take, because we have seen these dramatic increases. We need to get this back under control, so that we can remain on a recovery journey,” she said.

There were 401 cases reported in Santa Monica as of Monday.

editor@smdp.com