File photo.

COVID-19 case counts and test positivity rates continue to decrease in L.A. County, signaling that the County may soon qualify for looser restrictions under the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The County’s test positivity rate of 3.2 percent qualifies for the “substantial transmission” tier, but the daily new case count of 8.1 cases per 100,000 residents is keeping the County in the most restrictive “widespread transmission” tier for now.

“We’re going to remain in tier one, because of our daily case count. If we don’t see a surge in cases and hospitalizations associated with activities over Labor Day and we continue to reduce our rate of community transmission over the weeks ahead we could enter tier two, which is a less restrictive tier, sometime in October,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of L.A. County Department of Public Health, during a Sept. 16 briefing.

In order to move from tier one to tier two the County needs to maintain a test positivity rate of less than 8 percent and a new daily case rate between 4 and 7 people per 100,000 residents for fourteen consecutive days.

If the County moves into tier two, restrictions will be lessened and gyms, movie theaters, and school campuses could potentially reopen at limited capacities.

“Last week, the average daily number of cases was about 800 and this is compared with over 2000 just a month ago,” said Ferrer. “Last week we saw the lowest test positivity rate to date at around 3.4 percent. This means that almost 97 percent of the tests that people took for COVID-19 ended up being negative. Just a month ago in mid August this rate was around 5 percent, so we’re happy to see the progress that we’ve made.”

Despite these gains Ferrer cautioned people that case counts may be low due to a recent decrease in testing and could rise again as we see the impacts of socialization over Labor Day weekend.

Ferrer also stressed the importance of not letting one’s guard down and refraining from group gatherings as we enter the holiday season, beginning with Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 18.

“The autumn and winter months are filled with special times that we all are looking forward to. Now there’s many secular and religious holidays that we usually celebrate by spending time with our friends and extended family members, and the pandemic has been difficult and frustrating in many ways, including placing limits on how we can celebrate safely. I do encourage all of us to think now about how we might want to modify our plans, so that we can share the joy of the holiday, while reducing the risk of transmitting a dangerous and sometimes deadly virus,” said Ferrer.

The fall also marks the beginning of flu season, and County health officials encourage all residents to get a flu vaccine. Flu clinics are already open across Los Angeles and residents can find immunization locations on publichealth.lacounty.gov and on vaccinefinder.org

“We don’t yet know how influenza and COVID will interact. Certainly it’s possible that people who are co-infected with both could have more serious outcomes and we want to avoid this occurrence. That’s why it’s so important to both reduce the risk of transmission by doing those core public health measures related to COVID, but at the same time taking advantage of the fact that while we don’t have a vaccine for COVID, we do have one for influenza,” said Ferrer.

As of Sept. 16, L.A. County recorded a total of 246,148 cases, 6,303 deaths, and 2,477,727 tests. There were 804 people hospitalized with COVID-19, with 30 percent of people being treated in the ICU and 18 percent requiring ventilators.

Clara@smdp.com