By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Los Angeles County health officials Wednesday said they were optimistic about local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but noted that recent upticks in case numbers might reflect a Labor Day-related spike that could lead to delays in reopening plans.

County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer also issued another warning to those not taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously, stating that the county has seen an 18% increase in the number of people who have died this year when compared to the same time period over the past three years.

“In other words, when we compare the first seven months of 2020 to the first seven months of the past three years, we’ve observed on average 18% more deaths than we expected, based on past trends,” Ferrer said. “And we know that the excess deaths are not fully attributable to just people who died of COVID-19, but I do want to emphasize — especially for those who continue to believe that COVID-19 is no worse than a bad case of influenza — that this chart shows that, in fact, it’s much worse.

“We’ve probably had 20 to 30% more deaths in May, June and July of 2020 than we saw in the prior three years for the same months,” she continued. “… If you look at the entire L.A. County population, this has translated into thousands of deaths that would otherwise not have occurred.”

Ferrer said that while the county has been doing well to slow the spread of the virus, daily new case numbers began increasing late last week — roughly two weeks after the Labor Day holiday — with four consecutive days of more than 1,000 newly reported cases.

On Wednesday, the county reported 1,265 newly confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 31 new deaths attributed to COVID-19, bringing countywide totals to 263,333 cases and 6,423 deaths.

Along with a slight uptick in cases, the county reported that the local virus transmission rate had risen to 1.02, slightly above the critical 1.0 threshold needed to slow the spread of the virus.

Concerns over a potential post-Labor Day spike also have county officials wary of moving ahead with any new reopening plans — most notably for nail salons which were cleared Tuesday by the state to resume modified indoor operations.

“We regularly speak with our public health director, whether it’s via email or phone conversations,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said. “We will be having our meeting this coming Tuesday, and we’ll be able to discuss some of these items, and they’re very, very — what could I say — concerning, because we know that we’re waiting to see data coming back after the Labor Day weekend, so I am very, very cautious of that.”

On Wednesday, Ferrer said the county had met the criteria needed to move to the state’s red tier, but said she was unsure whether the numbers would hold for another week, which is necessary for the county to be allowed to move up a tier.

“So we’re not sure that we’ll have another week where our adjusted daily case rate is at or below seven new cases per 100,000 residents,” she said. “But we are heartened that L.A. County has met the thresholds that allow us to see our progress and in the future move to tier two.”

A total of 779 people were hospitalized Wednesday due to the virus, down sharply from the average of 2,200 patients hospitalized following the Fourth of July holiday.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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