“Certainly cases are going up,” said California’s director of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly on Friday. Ghaly called this an “early worry” sign and warned that, ahead of what promises to be a hot weekend in much of the state, Californians should not let their guard down.
State and local health experts have been warning for weeks about a potential rise in cases after Labor Day, as people gathered for parties and barbecues. Ghaly said Friday’s numbers could be the first indication of that trend.
The state reported 3,400 new cases on Friday, which marks a slight uptick from recent lows, but the more concerning number is the 14-day rolling average of new cases which has begun to climb ever so slightly in the past few days. It’s up by 100 or so daily cases.
U.S. Coronavirus Update: America Now Has Over 7 Million COVID-19 Cases As New Daily Infections Rise In 23 States
One variable in the equation is testing volume. There were 99,000 tests reported in the state on Friday. Ghaly said that number had been as high as 180,000 in one day recently and as low as about 50,000 tests last week. Those numbers do have an effect on how many cases are identified but it is unclear, with those swings, what the impact has been.
The swings in testing were attributed to a number of sites being closed because of heat and smoke and also some testing sites seeing lower numbers of appointments due to heat.
Ghaly said there are “early signs” that the state’s progress against the disease is staring to slow. He said it has been two-and-a-half weeks since Labor Day and five weeks since fire evacuations forced some people out of their houses and into more communal settings.
Watch Ghaly’s announcement below.
The state’s positivity rate has begun to rise, said Ghaly. Likewise, COVID-related related ER visits and new hospitalizations due to the virus are on the rise across the state in the past week.
In the state’s largest county, Los Angeles, health officials there reported this week that the transmission rate — the number of new cases seen for every current case — had risen above 1 for the first time in weeks. When that rate is above 1 said Ghaly, COVID-19 will spread “exponentially.”
Asked about that rise in transmission in L.A. Ghaly admitted, “We are concerned.” Los Angeles also saw a higher number of new cases — 3,400 — on Friday than at any time in the past two weeks.
That news comes as Los Angeles County is on the verge of qualifying to reopen further under the state’s color-coded tier system.
“The metrics posted by the state yesterday indicate that we’ve posted number that qualifies us to reopen further,” said L.A. County Director of Health and Human Services Barbara Ferrer on Wednesdy. But, as Deadline has previously reported, the county must maintain those numbers for the next week in order to actually reopen further. And that’s not looking good.
“Unfortunately, we did see an increase in cases last week,” said Ferrer, “so we’re not sure we’ll see another week where our numbers meet the threshold [for reopening]. We will continue to keep an eye on this, especially since these increases are happening after the Labor Day weekend.”
Given the new numbers, the state projects an 89% increase in hospitalized COVID patients — from nearly 2,600 patients to more than 4,800 in late October.
Ghaly and other health officials across the country are worried about a “twindemic” in which a hospital system already taxed with COVID patients is overwhelmed when flu season hits and some of those patients also need ICU care.
Asked about the concept at CNN’s Citizens conference on Tuesday Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “We’re getting into a weather season where people will be spending more time indoors and depending upon your own social situation, indoors for you or another person may mean poor ventilation, poor airflow and difficulty getting the kind of removal of anything that would lead to spread.
“The fact is, we know we could get into serious trouble if we don’t do certain things,” Fauci warned. “And I hope that that understanding is not going to frighten people but will jolt them into realizing that it is within our hands to prevent that.”
Last month, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield was even more stark in his warning saying that the current pandemic, paired with the oncoming flu season, could create the “worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had.
The California numbers come on the day the U.S. recorded 7 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began and in the same week the country marked 200,000 COVID-19 deaths. Numbers were on the rise on Friday in 23 states, according to Johns Hopkins University data. California crossed the grim mark of 15,000 deaths from the virus on Monday.