LOS ANGELES – In Los Angeles County, an average of 10 people test positive for coronavirus every minute. Every six minutes, someone dies of Covid-19 according to public health data.
The surprising numbers come as California’s most populous county is rapidly approaching 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began last year.
According to county public health officials, more than 958,400 people in LA have been infected with the virus, and nearly 13,000 people have died since Wednesday. The numbers are just as sober across the state. California has nearly 2.8 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 31
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Epidemiologists and elected officials are faced with an uncomfortable question as LA’s Covid-19 crisis metastasizes: How did Los Angeles become the center of the pandemic?
“LA is a fairly large, complex county with factors such as overcrowding, poverty and a large important workforce,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco. “These things came together at a time in the pandemic where we also see a lot of fatigue and diminished adherence to the basic things one has to do to be safe, like wearing a mask.”
In many ways, Los Angeles was uniquely vulnerable to the crisis.
Pandemic fatigue began as cooler weather and shorter days approached, making outdoor activities less inviting even in a region known for its temperate climate. This, combined with holiday trips, gatherings and a large important workforce, where many members live in overcrowded or crowded homes, created a confluence of problems.
“At least the way this virus transmits, you do not have to have Hell’s Kitchen-type city density,” said Dr. George Rutherford, also as an epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco. “Los Angeles has small family homes with a lot of people in them. It’s hard to be a gardener working from home.”
The convergence of environmental factors continues to confuse public health officials, who have repeatedly warned that the next few weeks could be the worst of the pandemic as the post-holiday wave continues.
On Monday, county officials issued new recommendations to key workers and people running important errands to wear masks inside their own homes to avoid infecting loved ones, especially those with high-risk factors.
“One of the more heartbreaking conversations our health care professionals share is … when children apologize to their parents and grandparents for bringing Covid into their homes for getting them sick,” Hilda Solis, president of Los Angeles The County Board of Supervisors said during a news conference Tuesday. “These apologies are just some of the last words that loved ones will ever hear when they die alone.”
According to county public health officials, the recent rise began in early November shortly after private gatherings were allowed, personal care reopened, the Dodgers won the World Series and the Halloween weekend.
Less than a month later, the county was forced to reintroduce restrictions first enacted in the spring, including ending outdoor dining, limiting the number of people allowed in key establishments and banning more households from gathering, indoors or outdoors. A modified home order was issued around Thanksgiving, but by that time, cases were already rising exponentially.
“Once you get behind the eight bullets, it’s hard to put the genius back in the bottle,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “That’s the situation you do not want to be in.”
Yet that is the scenario that currently plays out over much of Southern California, where hospitals remain overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients. According to Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, LA has seen a 1,000 percent increase in Covid-19 cases since Nov. 1.
“Everyone needs to keep in mind that transmission rates in society are so high that you risk exposure when you leave your home,” she told a news conference last week. “Suppose this deadly invisible virus is everywhere, looking for a willing host.”
But almost a year into the pandemic, exhaustion seems to be everywhere.
Mixed messages from elected leaders have only exacerbated feelings of fatigue, experts say, beginning with the federal government’s early downgrading of coronavirus and trickling down to state and city levels, where opinions on what should remain open and what should remain closed, can vary widely.
“The federal government has to own the message confusion and the resistance it breeds,” Rutherford said.
Experts also point to confusion and frustration as a result of strict home orders issued early in the pandemic, when California had relatively low cases of coronavirus. Unlike New York City, which closed down after cases rose in the air, Los Angeles previously shut down many businesses and restricted outdoor activities before experiencing such an increase, prompting some residents and local leaders to question the effectiveness of Restrictions.
“You have to think about the psychology behind this,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “When you saw the devastation that New York experienced early on, it’s easier to implement stubborn public health strategies. It’s a much harder thing to do 10 months when people are tired. ”
Despite the deadly rise, protesters took to the streets this month, marching through grocery stores and malls, calling for the reopening of California’s economy and encouraging people to defy the state’s mask mandate.
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Some of the opposition came in the wake of the elected leaders, who championed precisely the rules they sought to impose. Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, both Democrats, were pictured eating indoors last year at an upscale wine country restaurant, while House President Nancy Pelosi was seen in a hairstyle, though many salons remained closed throughout the state.
The setbacks quickly went up and down in California.
Small business owners protested at home orders, and a recall effort against Newsom quickly gained traction. In Orange and Riverside counties, sheriff’s departments stated that enforcement at home would not be a priority after restrictions were in place, while some restaurants in San Diego and Los Angeles have openly opposed orders at home for several weeks.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to slowing down transmission speeds, says Bibbins-Domingo, is convincing people that their actions can save lives.
“If we can not accept and understand how our destiny is tied together, we will not return to normal,” she said.