With variants looming, LA County officials caution against long-distance travel over Spring Break – Daily News

After a long spell of encouraging statistical news, Los Angeles County climbed above 2,200 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, March 4, the highest single-day total in nearly two weeks.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, however, continued to fall. According to state figures, there were 1,341 people hospitalized in the county as of Thursday, with 429 people in intensive care, the lowest numbers the county has reported since Nov. 19.

But the county reported 2,253 new infections, the highest single-day number since Feb. 20, when 2,393 cases were announced. Health officials said they will be closely monitoring new case numbers, and other indicators, in hopes the bump doesn’t become a trend.

Those numbers, combined with increasing concern over swiftly growing variants, spurred public health officials to warn that travel over Spring Break could derail a pandemic recovery that could be only weeks away from seeing significant restrictions lifted.

Public Health Chief Barbara Ferrer urged people to postpone traveling more than 120 miles from home, unless its essential.

“We may just be weeks away from reducing transmission in L.A. County enough so that additional re-openings are permitted,” she said in a statement accompanying the Public Health Department’s daily update. “However, with increased case numbers in other states, and more circulating variants of concern, spring travel can lead to another surge that frankly would be almost impossible to tolerate. Travel increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. To avoid this, please postpone travel and continue doing your part to slow the spread so that our recovery journey isn’t sidelined.”

The county is on track to exit the restrictive purple tier of the state’s four-level economic-reopening road map by late March. If it advances to the less-restrictive red tier, more businesses could be cleared to open, including indoor dining, movie theaters and fitness centers, all at limited capacity.

Figures released by the state Tuesday put the county’s adjusted average daily rate of new COVID-19 infections at 7.2 per 100,000 residents. If that number falls to 7 per 100,000 residents and stays at that level for two weeks, the county will be able to move out of the restrictive purple tier of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” and into the red tier.

The daily update did not include the latest numbers from Long Beach and Pasadena, which operate their own health departments. On Thursday, Pasadena reported one new death and 13 new cases, for pandemic totals of 318 deaths and 10,062 cases.  Long Beach reported 67 more coronavirus cases, for a total of 51,479; one new fatality raised the city’s death toll to 857.

Following the lead of federal health authorities — and chastising other states that have lifted mask mandates — California officials on Thursday also urged residents in the Southland and across the state to consider donning two masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The California Department of Public Health issued revised guidance on mask wearing, urging people to wear face coverings that are free of gaps that can allow respiratory droplets to escape.

To that end, the guidance promotes “double masking” — wearing a cloth mask over a surgical/disposable mask.

“We are encouraging people basically to double down on mask wearing, particularly in light of all of what I would argue is bad information coming from at least four states in this country,” Newsom told reporters Thursday, referring to states that have opted against mandating masks, and those such as Texas that recently lifted the mandate. “We will not be walking down their path.”

The state also announced a major policy shift on Thursday, diverting 40% of all vaccine supplies to people lower-income communities hard hit by the pandemic. In conjunction with that shift, when the state reaches select milestones in the number of vaccinations in those communities, it will adjust the required case rates to allow counties to more easily advance in the reopening blueprint.

Moving to the red tier of the blueprint would also allow in-person instruction to resume for students in grades 7-12. The county already meets the requirements for in-person classes for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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