With coronavirus cases surging in California, the upcoming July 4 weekend is shaping up to be a crucial test for whether residents can reduce risky behavior and slow the outbreak.
Data show the current jump in cases appears to have begun around the Memorial Day weekend, just as the state was allowing businesses to reopen. Authorities believe many people resumed social gatherings after months of staying home, and that helped spread the virus. Memorial Day holiday events were followed by graduation and Father’s Day celebrations.
Other factors in the surge include people returning to restaurants and bars, where inspections have found that many businesses were not following social-distancing and health and safety rules.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health also announced a ban on fireworks displays.
What are officials doing to prepare for July 4?
Los Angeles County will close its beaches Friday and ban fireworks displays in anticipation of the Fourth of July holiday.
Although it was a “difficult decision to make,” the closures are crucial because so many people gather to celebrate — which could be “a recipe for increased transmission of COVID-19,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Monday.
All public beaches, piers, public beach parking lots, beach bike paths “that traverse that sanded portion of the beach” and beach access points will be closed from 12:01 a.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. The ban on fireworks displays applies only to the Fourth of July weekend.
“I know how much we look forward to this time of year,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a Monday evening news briefing. “But not this year. This year, we have to think about saving lives to protect what we have in this country … and to make sure our economy doesn’t take more steps backward.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered seven counties, including Los Angeles, to immediately close bars and nightspots that were open.
San Diego County bars, breweries and wineries learned Monday that they will not be allowed to operate, at least not in the traditional sense, starting Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. While restaurants will still be allowed to serve drinks with meals, no one will be allowed to stand around with drinks in their hands after the stroke of midnight.
Newsom threatened to order the return of the stay-at-home directive in Imperial County, where he said the rate of positive cases has been as high as 23%, if local officials did not do so on their own.
“If they are unsuccessful in building consensus around going back into a stay-at-home order frame, the state of California will assert itself and make sure that happens,” Newsom said Monday.
He also warned that the state is considering additional restrictions in other areas.
“Let me be forthright with you: We are considering a number of other things to advance, and we will be making those public as conditions change,” he said.
Unlike the first surge of coronavirus cases in California, a second wave of cases is spread across the state, leaving medical providers frustrated and on edge.
What do experts say?
Public health officials expected the reopenings to push up the number of coronavirus cases — but not this much.
Robert Kim-Farley, a medical epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said the only way to figure out how to open is to do it gradually and dial things back if the disease spreads so fast it might overwhelm hospitals later. And that’s what’s happening now.
“Now, we’re recognizing things are going up. So we’re dialing it back down again,” Kim-Farley said.
Dr. Otto Yang, a professor of medicine and the associate chief of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said he thought L.A. County reopened too quickly.
“A lot of the things that really work to reduce transmission — like contact tracing and even masks — depend on your starting at a low [disease] control level,” Yang said. “It’s back to the fire analogy: If the fire isn’t down to just smoldering embers — if there’s still active pockets of fire — then backing off will let stuff flare up very quickly.”
Physicians are increasingly seeing more younger adult patients. “We’re still getting some very sick patients, but we’re also seeing more young people that have milder cases,” Yang said.
Based on what patients are telling medical staff, the younger people say they suspect the virus was acquired by “going out and socializing more.” He added, “It does seem like it’s either family gatherings or social activities.”
Yang said the protests against the death of George Floyd in police custody do not seem be a particularly big factor in the spread of disease. He cited current epidemiological studies that suggest the outdoor nature of the protests, and that many protesters wore masks, limited the spread of the virus.
This is the scenario that L.A. County health officials most feared — that reopening would coincide with sudden jumps in coronavirus transmission.
Where do we stand now?
The state broke its record Monday for the greatest number of new coronavirus cases reported in a single day, tallying more than 8,000. It is the third time in eight days the state has broken a record of new daily cases, according to the Los Angeles Times’ California coronavirus tracker.
A Times analysis found that California is on track to roughly double the number of coronavirus cases in June over those it recorded in May. Last month, there were 61,666 cases reported statewide; by Monday night, there were 114,196 cases reported for the first 28 days of June.
By Monday evening, there were a cumulative 223,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,900 coronavirus-related deaths in California.
Ferrer said the surge is proof — “definitively” — that community transmission has increased, with the cumulative rate of those testing positive for infection increasing from 8% to 9%. Officials are now warning that 1 in 140 residents are probably unknowingly infected with the virus and contagious to others, a threefold increase over last week’s projection of 1 in 400.
That means a typical large, busy store would probably have multiple infectious persons enter and shop every day, officials said.
In addition, health officials revealed that on the weekend after June 19 — the day Los Angeles County gave the green light for bars, breweries, wineries and similar businesses to reopen — more than 500,000 people visited the county’s newly reopened nightlife spots.
Inspectors, however, found over the weekend that employees at about half of the bars and restaurants visited were not wearing face masks or shields. Half of the bars and one-third of the restaurants inspected were not adhering to social-distancing protocols.