A fresh surge of coronavirus cases on Saturday and Sunday has alarmed Los Angeles County officials, who say they may consider imposing a curfew and other health measures in effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.
New cases topped 3,000 for two consecutive days over the weekend. County public health officials recorded 3,780 new cases of the virus Saturday, the highest one-day total since the peak of the crisis in mid-July. On Sunday, officials reported 3,061 new cases and three deaths.
Amid the increase, the county Department of Public Health is expected to propose a set of recommendations for the Board of Supervisors this week.
"Potential options could be instituting a curfew so businesses do not have to completely close down again, but are more limited to essential activities," Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said Sunday in a statement.
L.A. County remains in the strictest purple tier of the state's four-phase reopening plan, meaning many businesses must remain closed for indoor operations. Still, officials relaxed some rules over the last couple months, including permitting hair salons and barbershops to operate indoors with certain precautions and allowing family entertainment centers to reopen outdoors.
The increase in new cases could jeopardize those gains. A curfew is one of the few alternatives to restricting business operations even more heavily, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said.
"After people drink for a while, perhaps they lose inhibition and judgment and so possibly a curfew might help," Kuehl said. "But we would have to see if it worked in other jurisdictions. That might help us keep our businesses open so long as they are perfectly compliant."
The seven-day average of new cases has nearly doubled in recent weeks, with the county reporting about 2,371.9 new cases each day over the last week compared with 1,241.9 cases two weeks before that, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.
Although hospitalizations haven't yet reached the level seen during the summer, when there were more than 2,200 confirmed coronavirus patients in county hospitals, the number has shot up from a low of 687 in late September to 1,049 patients as of Saturday, raising concerns the increase could outpace the number of available intensive care beds.
More people are getting tested — 340,636 during the week ending Nov. 8, the highest weekly total since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the county.
But a larger share of those tests are also coming back positive, which officials say indicates that transmission of the virus has increased. The positivity rate had been holding at about 4% since late August but ticked up to roughly 6% this week.
"I think it's sounding an alarm for all of us," L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said Sunday. "We don't want to go back. We don't want to have to shut everything down but if we don't have cooperation, that's where we're headed."
The prospect of a new, countywide curfew elicited a variety of responses from people Sunday.
East Los Angeles resident Olivia Sanchez said she thinks a countywide curfew is a good idea, if that's what is needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Sanchez, 57, said she's eaten at a restaurant once in the last eight months — and that time it was outside, at a Denny's.
Sanchez, a bus driver, said she plans to stay home "as long as I have to," cooking for her family and barbecuing in the backyard.
"Whatever it takes," she said. "I've got my Lysol. I've got my wipes."
Officials have blamed several factors for the rise in new cases, which has mirrored a trend felt across the United States. The weather has gotten colder, bringing more people inside. More people are attending small gatherings with family and friends, and there's an overall sense of fatigue when it comes to observing public health restrictions, officials say.
Mat Estrada, a resident of Los Angeles' Hancock Park neighborhood, said he worries that a new curfew could trigger a public backlash, with some deciding that county health officials have gone too far. If that happens, he said, residents may disregard other health measures, such as wearing masks and staying home, he said.
"Everyone is so exasperated, because it's gone on for so long and been so debilitating," said the 55-year-old financial planner. "With any new restriction, for a certain number of people, it's going to be too much for them."
Estrada, who went to Hollywood on Sunday to get a COVID-19 test, said he and his partner plan to stay at home this Thanksgiving, cooking without guests and possibly having a Zoom call with his two sons, who live in other parts of the state. The risk of having them traveling, he said, is not worth it.
"There's just no reason to do it now," he said.
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, said it's not immediately apparent that there's a heavy demand for later business hours at restaurants and outdoor bars anyway. Many dining spots have already scaled back their operations as a result of the outbreak, serving patrons in parking lots and other outdoor spaces, he said.
"If we have to adjust, we have to adjust," Waldman said. "I think a curfew would be a minor inconvenience."
( Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.)
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