LOS ANGELES, CA — Los Angeles school officials could soon apply for waivers to reopen if the county’s coronavirus numbers continue to trend in the right direction, but there is a roadblock on the horizon: Labor Day.
Already, a school district in neighboring Orange County has been approved to reopen, and Los Angeles County is heading toward the threshold to apply for a waiver, according to county health officials. However, each time the county has seemed to be heading in the right direction, a holiday weekend prompted get togethers and a subsequent surge in new cases. Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends resulted in major case spikes in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the county’s public health director said Friday.
It was just two weeks after the Fourth of July weekend, the county had “our worst-ever surge in cases and hospitalizations,” Barbara Ferrer noted during an ABC7 online question-and-answer session. “Of course, we’re looking to what we can do differently around Labor Day,” Ferrer said.
Her warning comes a day after Los Angeles County’s chief medical officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser gave hopes to parents that schools in Los Angeles could have a chance to reopen soon.
The county needs to drop below 200 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents before officials will consider reopening schools.
“We do believe we could get down to under 200 in the near future,” Gunzenhauser said.
The county’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has laid out an ambitious plan for testing that could make it LA schools slower to reopen.
“We’ve said from the beginning, we’re going to follow the science,” L.A. school board member Jackie Goldberg told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re going to begin our testing first with the nurses and the people who are going to do the testing, but we’re going to do some baseline testing before we open any schools, because we don’t want to put people in harm’s way.”
Ferrer and other county health officials in recent weeks have hailed declining hospitalization numbers and testing-positivity rates as signs that the county has been successfully slowing the spread of COVID-19. Ferrer noted recently that the county now meets five of the state’s six criteria for controlling infections, falling short only in the per-capita rate of people testing positive for the virus.
Until the county meets all six of the criteria, it will remain on the state’s coronavirus monitoring list, which prevents more businesses from reopening and requires school campuses to remain closed.
Health officials have praised residents for their work adhering to calls for wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance from others. But recent improvements in the county’s coronavirus numbers are likely attributable in part to continued restrictions that keep bars closed and require restaurants to offer outdoor dining only.
Ferrer noted Friday on the ABC7 event that when bars in the county were allowed to reopen at the end of June, roughly 500,000 people flocked to bars that weekend.
“That was a lot of exposure,” she said. “And remember, those people were unlikely to be wearing their face coverings and they were indoors. We can’t make those kinds of mistakes again. Not now. Our community transmission rates are just too high for us to really make a mistake that puts so many people in contact with other people without the ability to take those protective measures that we actually know will work.”
On Friday, the county reported another 46 deaths due to the coronavirus, although one of those deaths was actually announced Thursday by officials in Long Beach. Long Beach announced one more fatality Friday. The new deaths increased the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 5,492.
Los Angeles County also announced 1,759 additional confirmed cases of the virus, and noted that 72% of those cases were people under age 50. Along with 86 new cases reported by Long Beach, and eight more announced by Pasadena, the countywide cumulative number of cases rose to 229,148.
A total of 1,347 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of Friday, down slightly from 1,378 on Thursday. The number of hospitalizations has been trending downward in recent weeks, though health officials said the decline has leveled off in recent days. But the number is still well below the roughly 2,200 hospital patients seen in mid-July.
The county on Friday also reported nine more cases of the pediatric ailment known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. The new cases lifted the countywide total to 25. There have been no deaths reported in the county due to the condition, which affects children who either had COVID- 19 or have been exposed to it. The ailment causes inflammation of body parts including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, eyes or gastrointestinal organs, sometimes resulting in lifelong health affects.
While warning against the threat of a Labor Day weekend surge, Ferrer didn’t offer any specifics in terms of what steps might be taken to prevent a repeat of the post-July 4 and Memorial Day spikes, but Ferrer said she hopes people take heed of the public-gathering restrictions during the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
“I will say I hope people understand that just because some sectors have reopened … doesn’t mean things have returned to normal,” Ferrer said on the Channel 7 webcast. “There’s nothing about normal that we should look forward to right now. What we’re doing is creating a new normal where we’re still going to have to adhere to restrictions and modifications in how we interact with each other.
“Having a gathering, a social gathering, going to a party, inviting people over for dinner who aren’t in your household, going to people’s houses who aren’t in your household, going to the beach with 20 of your best friends — in my mind these are not essential activities to do during a pandemic,” she said. “Essential activities are getting to work, getting our schools back open so our children can have a learning experience.
“And in order for those activities to happen, we all have to make sacrifices about these other activities that just can’t be as important now. We have to find other ways to stay socially connected that don’t jeopardize our recovery journey.”
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on the Los Angeles Patch