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Health Officials Warn LA County Could Tighten Restrictions If COVID-19 Case Surge Continues

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) -- As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in L.A. County, health officials warned Thursday that they may be forced to impose more restrictions on public activity to get the spread of the virus under control.

"Increasing daily case numbers and increasing test positivity percents are deeply troubling and more evidence that we are seeing increasing community transmission," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

The county reported another 2,533 confirmed cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 330,514.

An additional seven virus-related fatalities were also reported, raising the death toll to 7,221.

"Our case rate continues to be the reason why we remain in the most restrictive purple tier," Ferrer said.

The county's recent testing-positivity rate is also rising, going from a seven-day daily average of 3.6% in early October to 4.4% last week, to 5.9% as of Thursday. Hospitalizations are also increasing, with 953 coronavirus patients as of Thursday, marking the second consecutive day over 900.

Ferrer noted that on Oct. 3, the county was averaging 988 new cases per day, but as of last week, the average rose to 1,464.

"If collectively we fail to stop the acceleration of new cases, we will have no choice but to look at additional actions,'' Ferrer said. "All around the country, elected officials and public health leaders are introducing new requirements to protect health care systems from becoming overwhelmed.

"We've been there before, just four months ago, and we worked really hard to get ourselves back to a place where our health was protected and our recovery journey could continue, and I know none of us wants to step back,'' she said. "Which leaves us with one option, and that is to make good choices that reflect the reality of living during a pandemic.''

Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, said that the surge in cases in L.A. County and across California is the result of some people still not wearing masks and social distancing.

"We're in for a very dark winter," he said.

By February, the situation could be much worse, Swartzberg said.

"We're projected to have another 160,000 dead Americans if people just continue to wear the masks the same rate they're wearing them, the social distancing just like they're doing now," he said.

Swartzberg said the surge could worsen through the winter months because people will be spending time indoors and gathering for the holidays. He said, in addition to COVID cases, people sick with the flu may strain the healthcare system.

"The call about whether or not a fine is something we want to do is really very important public policy question," he said. "You'll have more people wearing a mask perhaps but you may have a lot more people revolting against it. So it's a very tough call."

With COVID cases on the rise in L.A. County, the city's largest testing site remained busy throughout the day.

"Last night out at dinner a friend of a friend woke up with some flu-like symptoms this morning," said John Grier, who lined up at Dodger Stadium on Thursday to get tested. "So definitively want to be doing the responsible thing and get tested to make sure."

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

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