Los Angeles County will once again prohibit dining at restaurants and bars beginning Wednesday, as the recent spike in COVID-19 has brought the five-day average of new cases to more than 4,000, health officials said Sunday.
To reduce the possibility for crowding and the potential for exposures in settings where people are not wearing their face coverings, the county's Health Officer Order will be modified so that restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars will only be able to offer take-out, drive thru, and delivery services.
The order will apply for a minimum of three weeks.
Officials warned of the possibility of such measures last week, as new cases and hospitalizations continued to surge in Los Angeles County and statewide. They follow a statewide "soft curfew'' that went into effect Saturday prohibiting all "nonessential work, movement and gatherings'' between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., continuing until the morning of Dec. 21.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 2,718 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths, bringing the county's totals to 364,520 cases and 7,438 fatalities. The previous three days had each seen more than 4,000 cases reported, including a single-day record of 5,031 cases on Thursday.
If the five-day average of cases grows to 4,500 or more or hospitalizations are more than 2,000 per day, a Targeted Safer at Home Order will be issued for three weeks, the health department said. That order would offer additional restrictions while allowing essential and emergency workers and those securing essential services to leave their homes.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus increased from 1,391 Saturday to 1,401, with 26% in intensive care. That's more than double the daily number in the beginning of October, when it was under 700.
The department reminded everyone to stay home as much as possible for the next two to three weeks to change the trajectory of surging cases and save lives, and repeated its advice that people not travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
"As we modify our Thanksgiving holiday celebrations, we are reminded of the many families who will miss their loved ones who have passed away from COVID-19. We send wishes for healing and peace,'' County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
"The persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks. We hope individuals continue to support restaurants, breweries and wineries by ordering for take-out or delivery. We also fervently hope every LA County resident supports all our businesses by following the Public Health directives that we know work to slow spread. Unfortunately, if our cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, we will need to issue further restrictions to protect our healthcare system and prevent more deaths."
Other restrictions that took effect Friday were:
-- indoor "nonessential'' businesses such as retail stores, offices and personal care services will be limited to 25% occupancy;
-- 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.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's Health and Human Services secretary, said the state's order was not a hard curfew, indicating that people can still go outside of their homes, but they just shouldn't gather with others. He noted that he still plans to take his dog on its normal 11 p.m. walk.
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.''
Asked about how restrictions will be enforced -- in light of Southern California sheriffs stating they won't be actively cracking down on health-order violations -- Ferrer said the county isn't relying on law enforcement, but rather hoping residents will take the urgency to heart.
"We really appreciate that the best enforcement is voluntary compliance," she said. "We've all done really well when we've set for ourselves a goal as a community and gotten behind it. I can't think of anybody at this point who's going to argue with the fact that we need to take some action to slow the spread, because this level of acceleration threatens our health care system.
"And that threatens care for every single person in this county -- for people who have a heart attack, for people who need emergency surgery, for people who need scheduled surgery, for people who are victims of car accidents or trauma.''
Ferrer also noted that the surge in cases is not just the result of increased testing. She said the county's rising rate of positive tests shows that the virus is spreading more rapidly. 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 stood at 7.1%. as of Saturday.