Coronavirus infection rate skyrockets in California, a worrying sign of community spread

Of the many growing coronavirus metrics in California, one of the most concerning is the rate at which coronavirus test results are now turning positive.

A Times data analysis found that as of Friday, 5.7% of coronavirus test results in California for the previous seven days returned positive results, a rate not seen since early May. A week ago, the rate was 4.7%, a rate that had held steady in June through Sunday, when there was a dramatic change in the numbers.

Health officials say the increasing percentage of coronavirus test results confirming the infection indicated that the virus is beginning to spread in communities as more counties in California ease orders to stay home, allowing that many companies reopen.

The state has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks that officials attribute to a variety of factors, including people who increasingly leave home; holding social gatherings; do not wear face covers; outbreaks in nursing homes, prisons, recently opened workplaces, and overcrowded homes; and recent political protests.

The so-called “positivity rate” has become an increasingly watched indicator of how much the coronavirus is spreading, and its steady increase over the past week is causing concern.

“The numbers tell us that we are seeing an increase in community broadcast,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County this week.

On Sunday, the rate of coronavirus tests that confirmed the infection in the past seven days in California was up to 4.8%. The next day, it was 4.9%. For Tuesday, it was 5.3%, and on Friday, 5.7%.

Imperial Rural County, one of the nation’s largest agricultural areas east of San Diego, now has the highest test positivity rate of any county in the state, a seven-day average of 23%, well above of the 8% rate that causes concern among state officials. The outbreaks there have overwhelmed local hospitals, forcing more than 500 patients to be sent to other counties for care.

The situation in Imperial County is so bad that Newsom said Friday that the state was recommending that county officials re-impose a strict stay-at-home order, the first time officials have taken such drastic action. With 5,744 cases and 73 deaths, Imperial County has the highest rate of coronavirus cases per capita in California, according to The Times pandemic tracker.

“We are advising and advising them to move forward and reinstate an order to stay home, but they will move at their discretion,” Newsom said. “If they cannot reach a consensus, I am committed to intervening, as is my role and responsibility as governor in the state of California.”

Imperial It is among a growing number of California counties that the state is monitoring because they have exceeded state-established criteria to address the pandemic, including thresholds for hospitalizations and positive COVID-19 tests.

Initially, the list focused on Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, but has now been extended to the Bay Area. Including Imperial, the 15 counties are Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tulare and Ventura.

Newsom urged people to deny the growing pandemic to realize the new reality.

“Let us be disappointed that somehow the lazy expert that existed, that somehow is a seasonal disease and the triple digit climate will annihilate it. Look at these states that are seeing record record increases, ”Newsom said.

Conditions also deteriorated Friday in San Bernardino County. Officials said local hospitals are beginning to reach “augmentation capacity” due to new coronavirus cases, which means they are approaching reaching their authorized limits for the number of beds available.

They stressed that there is still room for more patients, but said the system is getting stressed. The county said it would consider opening alternative patient care sites if the hospitals fill up.

California has seen a 36% increase in hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19 confirmed disease, and a 24% increase in ICU patients with verified infections, in the last 14 days.

Los Angeles County is also registering an increasing rate of test results testing positive for coronavirus. On Friday, 8.8% of coronavirus test results confirmed infections as a daily average over the past week. Two weeks ago, on June 12, it was 5.8%.

While the rate of positive test results may help show the influence of stronger evidence in increasing case counts, there are still some difficulties.

At the start of the pandemic, the evidence was limited and often only available to critically ill patients. Now, in many parts of California, people without symptoms can get a sample of the virus. That would reduce the positive rate.

“At the end of the day, you really aren’t telling us with certainty what’s going on in the community,” said Ron Brookmeyer, biostatistician and dean of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. “A falling positivity rate may just be reflecting that there is a bias now, a change in who’s going to come to the test.”

Still, Brookmeyer said the recent increase in California’s positivity rate is a “worrying early warning sign,” adding that rising hospitalizations and deaths could continue.

“Next time I will keep an eye on the number of new hospitalizations,” he said.

In Los Angeles County, 1,302 were hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infections on June 1. As of Thursday, there were 1,660, an increase of 27%.

The worsening pandemic has caused Newsom to pause in issuing regulations that would allow counties to reopen other industries, such as amusement parks. As a result, Disney said this week that Disneyland will not be able to open as previously planned on July 17.

There is nothing to suggest that California may allow counties to open more industries anytime soon, due to the increase in cases and hospitalizations, Newsom said.

Newsom warned that the number of new daily deaths will likely increase in a few weeks. It can take three to four weeks after exposure to the virus for infected people to be hospitalized, and four to five weeks after exposure for patients to die from the disease.

Rising disease levels caused several counties in the San Francisco Bay area to signal a slowdown in the reopening process.

San Francisco is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 infection rates and will have to pause its reopening, the city’s director of health said on Friday.

Businesses that were slated to reopen Monday will now remain closed, said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

They include hair salons, hair salons, tattoo parlors, zoos, open-air bars, and outdoor pools. On June 14, 2.7 people per 100,000 tested positive for the virus, Colfax said in a virtual press conference. By Thursday, that rate had risen to 5.1 per 100,000.

“We went from yellow to high orange, and if that continues for the next few days, we could be in our red zone,” which could trigger further restrictions, Colfax said. He said the hospital’s capacity remained “relatively good”.

In Marin County, officials decided to pause the reopening of gyms, tattoo parlors, and nail salons that were planned for Monday, although they will allow indoor meals and haircuts to resume that day.

The third most populous county in the Bay Area, Contra Costa, has seen its number of COVID-19 hospitalizations increase by 42% in the past seven days.

“This … indicates a real increase in the spread of the community,” officials said. Younger people are also becoming increasingly infected, with 55% of cases in people age 40 and younger; in April, they represented only 38% of cases.

“It is a sign that younger people are playing an important role in driving the increase in new cases and potentially infecting vulnerable people. This highlights why it is important for everyone to avoid social gatherings, observe physical distancing, and wear masks or facial covers when they are around others, “Contra Costa county officials said.

“There is concern that these increases may lead to an increase in very sick people that could overwhelm the local health system,” authorities said.

Authorities raised the possibility that Contra Costa County will delay the reopening of businesses that are slated to reopen Wednesday, including interior dining rooms, bars, gyms, hotels, nail salons, and tattoo parlors.

“We realize that many people are eager to resume their normal activities. However, if we adjust the reopening schedule, it will be because we have the opportunity to prevent the pandemic from spiraling out of control in the county, ”Contra Costa county officials said.

Times staff writers Maura Dolan in San Francisco and Phil Willon in Sacramento contributed to this report.