LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County will impose additional restrictions today on businesses and social gatherings, but a continuing surge in COVID-19 cases means even more severe rules could be on the horizon, in addition to a state-mandated overnight curfew taking effect Saturday.
The most notable restriction taking effect in the county Friday requires restaurants, wineries, breweries and non-essential businesses to close between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Other restrictions taking effect are:
-- indoor "non-essential" businesses such as retail stores, offices and personal care services will be limited to 25% occupancy;
-- outdoor service at restaurants, wineries and breweries will be limited to 50% of the maximum outdoor capacity;
-- outdoor cardrooms, miniature golf sites, go-kart tracks and batting cages will be limited to 50% of maximum outdoor capacity;
-- customers at personal-care businesses must make advance appointments, and no services that require customers to remove their face masks can be offered; and
-- outdoor gatherings must be limited to no more than 15 people from a maximum of three households.
The county previously issued guidance limiting gatherings to three households, but there was no numerical limit on attendees.
On Saturday night, the state will impose what amounts to an overnight curfew that will impact all counties in the restrictive "purple" tier of the state's coronavirus monitoring system -- which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties. The "limited Stay At Home Order" prohibits all "non-essential work, movement and gatherings" between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., beginning Saturday night and continuing until the morning of Dec. 21.
"The virus is spreading at a pace we haven't seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. "We are sounding the alarm. It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We've done it before and we must do it again."
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, said the order is not a hard curfew, indicating that people can still go outside to walk their dog at 11 p.m. if that is their normal routine. He said the idea is to cut off activities and gatherings of people that can promote virus spread.
He said there is no definitive cause for the state's sudden surge in cases.
"There is no single culprit," Ghaly said. "It's a combination of factors. It's certainly the colder weather, more mixing, which comes with more opening. ... And of course greater travel. We've enjoyed some events over the last many weeks -- in my home county of Los Angeles, the Dodgers, the Lakers. We had Halloween. We just exited Veterans Day. We're looking forward to other future events and activities as we go into the winter.
"We've had some things to celebrate, some things to protest, coming together in ways that we don't usually always do," Ghaly said. "All of those things create opportunities for the virus to spread, opportunities where, when we've put our guard down, it certainly does spread. And we know that those are factors driving this high transmission."
Los Angeles County officials, however, could be on the verge of implementing even tighter restrictions thanks to the surging case numbers and rising hospitalizations.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles County Health Officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, reported a record-setting 5,031 new coronavirus cases, the highest ever reported in a single day during the pandemic. He said the county's surging numbers now exceed the spike seen in mid-summer, jumping 68% since the end of October, compared to a 43% increase that occurred between mid-June and early July.
"At this point, no one should be still underestimating the spread of this virus, nor should anyone be questioning the actions we still need to slow the spread and lessen its impact on our collective health and our local economy," Davis said.
Under guidelines released Tuesday by the county Department of Public Health, if the five-day average of new cases reaches 4,000, or if hospitalizations top 1,750, outdoor dining at restaurants, breweries and wineries will end, with eateries restricted to pick-up and delivery service only.
If the county experiences a five-day average of 4,500 new cases a day, or if hospitalizations exceed 2,000, the county will return to the strict Safer At Home orders that were imposed at the onset of the pandemic. Those rules allow only essential workers -- or people accessing essential services -- to leave their homes. The order will also include a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. countywide curfew, with only essential workers exempted.
Davis said that with Thursday's record case number, the county now has a two-day average of about 4,500 cases -- the threshold for implementing the stay-at-home restrictions.
"That is only a two-day average and we still have a few more days to go, but if the numbers remain high, potentially by Sunday we could have the five-day average higher than what we would want to see and would need to implement a Safer at Home order," he said. "It wouldn't be today or anytime tomorrow or the day after. We would need five days of an average in order to make that decision."
In an online briefing, Davis repeatedly lashed out at those who have deemed COVID-19 to be a hoax.
"The cases that we're seeing, all of the science -- this is across the world," he said. "I don't think anybody engineered a hoax to be worldwide in terms of a pandemic, let alone across the state, let alone across the region, let alone across the whole United States. These are real, these are scientific tests that are being done. The virus has been isolated from early on in the pandemic.
"... It's unfortunate that someone thinks that this isn't real."
He also bashed notions that the virus is less dangerous than the flu, noting that an estimated 3,133 people died during the 2019-2020 flu season in the county. COVID-19 has caused 7,363 deaths between March and November, despite only infecting about one-third as many residents as the flu.
"COVID-19 has caused more deaths even though it has infected fewer people," he said. "This should serve as a severe demonstration of how much more dangerous COVID-19 is than the flu. It is deadlier and people can become very sick, sometimes for weeks and months. In addition, we're still learning about this virus, but we do already know that for some the complications can last for a long time."
The 5,031 cases announced Thursday, along with 192 reported by Long Beach and 55 announced by Pasadena, lifted the cumulative countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 353,479. The county also announced 29 deaths, although two of those fatalities were actually confirmed Wednesday by Long Beach health officials. Long Beach and Pasadena each announced one additional death. The new deaths lifted the countywide death toll to 7,365.
As of Thursday, there were 1,238 people hospitalized, continuing what is now a 10-day string of increases.
L.A. County's Health Services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly -- wife of the state's Dr. Mark Ghaly -- warned Wednesday that an increase in hospitalizations is almost inevitable in the next two weeks, given the virus' incubation period. And the current trend lines indicate that without a dramatic change in case numbers, area hospitals could find themselves overwhelmed with patients in the next month, she said.
The county's seven-day average daily positivity rate among those tested for the virus was 3.9% on Nov. 1, but it rose to 5.1% by Nov. 8 and it now stands at 7.1%.
Unlike all other COVID-19 statistics, the county's rate of coronavirus- related deaths has not yet surged upward. Health officials have attributed that fact to improvements in hospital treatment, and the fact that the vast majority of new cases are occurring among younger residents who are less likely to become seriously ill from the virus. But given increasing hospital numbers, the number of fatalities is also expected to eventually rise.