Officials: Curve begins to flatten, but social distancing must continue

Courtesy of the state of California

By Caleb Lunetta and Tammy Murga

The curve in Los Angeles County and in California is flattening, state and county officials announced Friday, but staying at home and physical distancing efforts must remain in place in order for the curve to continue dropping. 

On Friday, Los Angeles Department of Public Health officials released a data set that showed the flattening of a curve and how a patient can remain infectious for up to 10 to 30 days. 

According to a team of county doctors and statisticians, anywhere between two to 12 days is the time it would take for the virus to incubate from the point of exposure. The person is then infectious for anywhere between 10 and 30 or more days, with symptoms beginning after they become infectious and ending before they are no longer infectious. 

In their data set provided to the public, the county task force outlined that the goals of social distancing were to delay the peak in demand for health care services (thereby increasing the time health care officials have to prepare), decrease the peak demand and decrease the total population infected. 

Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
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Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, stated on Friday that the social distancing efforts are working, but in order to continue on with the “Safer-at-Home” order’s success, they would be extending the restrictions and closures of public spaces and non-essential businesses from the original April 19 date to May 15. 

“Based on the data we have, it is still not certain what trajectory this epidemic will take,” read the report released this week. “There is a range of possibilities for which we as a system need to be prepared.” 

Despite their expression of uncertainty in certain areas, the team of experts released data they believe shows that social distancing is working.

In one graph, experts showed how without any social distancing measures being put in place in L.A. County, the number of daily patients requiring hospitalization would have reached a daily total of just over 18,000 by May 1. The data also shows that if they were to stop social distancing now, the county would reach that same number but by approximately May 15. 

According to their data, the current level of mandated social distancing has resulted in roughly 500 daily hospitalizations by May 1 and eventually 1000 a day by May 22. 

If physical distancing is eliminated, the county experts say 95.6% of the population will have been infected over the course of the pandemic by Aug. 1. If current social distancing measures are maintained, 29.8% of the population will have become infected, and if the county increases the measures, 5.5% of the population will get it. 

Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
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In the graphs given, the experts gave themselves a wide margin of uncertainty, but also said that “it remains likely that current measures are not sufficient to lead to a reduction in illness over time, and therefore more effective measures will be required.”

These new rules include the extension of the health order, requires essential businesses to provide a face cloth by April 15 covering for all of their employees to wear while performing duties, to publicly post their business’s social distancing plans, and requires the public is also required to wear a face covering to enter essential businesses. 

“I don’t know what happens on May 16, I do not anticipate that we will lift all our restrictions on May 15,” said Ferrer. “I do know that every day we get closer and closer to a place and a space where we’re able to start relaxing some of the restrictions.”

CA models show people are following directives

Statewide, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Dr. Mark Ghaly, the Secretary of the California Health and Human Services, showed Friday, during a live briefing, an encouraging COVID-19 model, depicting that people are adhering to the stay-at-home directive.

“These graphs show that movement is going down all across California,” said Ghaly. “County by county, we see the similar trend line going from up top to down low, as it moves to the right. And what that tells us are people are moving around less and staying at home more compared to this time in February.” 

Pointing at a separate chart, Ghaly said that without mitigation or intervention efforts, COVID-19 related hospitalizations across the state could have surpassed California’s first phase of surge capacity, which is set at approximately 50,000.

The total number of confirmed cases statewide was 19,472 by Friday and 2,897 people who had tested positive were receiving treatment in hospitals, Newsom said. 

California may reach its peak later than May, Ghaly said, adding that, “our peak may not end up being as high as we actually planned around and expected. The difference between what we’re seeing today in our hospitals may not be that much different than where we are going to peak in the many weeks to come.” 

Newsom and Ghaly cautioned that the “line could easily start to see an upward slope” if people stopped practicing physical distancing and not staying at home. 

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