25 May 2020 Blog Post: COVID-19 Update - Los Angeles County Is Bending The Curve

We are probably all sick of hearing about ‘bending the curve’, actually so much so that I’ve noticed it leaving the parlance of the popular press. Given the amount of time that we have all been sheltering in place, it may have been somewhat of a surprise two weeks ago when Dr. Barbara Ferrer of the County Health Department announced that restrictions would certainly extend through the summer.

“We know, with all certainty, that we would be extending health officer orders for the next three months,” she said during an L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting. “Our hope always is that we’re able, by using the data, to lift restrictions slowly over the next three months.”

I must admit, I was a bit perplexed by the announcement – that is until I analyzed the data from Los Angeles County. The good news is that, as a County, we are moving definitively in the right direction. Or ‘bending the curve.’

At the time that Dr. Ferrer made the announcement on May 12th, new cases in Los Angeles County were still on the rise. Figure 1 shows that cases rose from 74.85 new cases per 100,000 population that week to 85.27 the week ending 5/15/2020. However, last week case rates dropped to 70.93 per 100,000 population.

What’s really interesting though is Figure 2, which is mortality rates. These had been steadily falling (and continue to fall) from a peak of 4.46 deaths per 100,000 to 4.12 the week of Dr. Ferrer’s announcement. It is now all the way down to 2.80 deaths per 100,000 population for the week ending this past Friday the 22nd.

So why would mortality rates be falling faster than case rates? Two possible phenomenon – in the first, COVID-19 could now be spreading more rapidly through younger people. We know that risk of death from COVID-19 shares a direct relationship with age. It is certainly possible that younger residents are now more often infected given the strict safer-at-home guidance given for California residents over the age of 65 years. Another possibility, is that testing has increased. While mortality from COVID-19 would be easily identified, cases with few or only mild symptoms might be missed when testing is limited. Therefore case rates would appear to go up, while death rates would decline.

Figure 3 shows that testing rates in Los Angeles have skyrocketed over the past two weeks. At the end of March, only 106.95 tests per 100,000 population were administered on average in a day. For the week ending 5/22/2020 that number has markedly increased to 1425.19 (down from its maximum of 1503.13).

So now I understand a bit better why Dr. Ferrer was guarded in her remarks. At the time of the announcement, mortality rates were falling but case rates were rising. She likely suspected that case rates were increasing due to improving testing availability and capacity, but could not be sure. But now we have some reason to be optimistic here in Los Angeles County – seeing declines in both case and mortality rates is welcome news after all these wearying weeks at home.

𝗦𝗶𝗴𝗻 𝗨𝗽 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗢𝘂𝗿 𝗡𝗲𝘄𝘀𝗹𝗲𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿

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