COVID-19 Update: A Tale of Three Counties

Three regional counties believe that they have qualified to ‘reopen further’ based on their latest COVID-19 numbers. These include Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside County. This post explores their epidemic curves and how they arrived at the cusp of ‘reopening’ (or, more accurately, if they actually qualify for such – spoiler alert: two don’t).


On September 22nd,L.A. County Director of Health and Human Services Barbara Ferrer said that according to state metrics, “we’ve posted number that qualifies us to reopen further.” Really? Let’s explore.


The Figure below has Los Angeles County as the blue line. It shows that cases began to accelerate in mid-June, hitting an initial peak the week of July 3rd and then edging further upwards the week of July 17th. Although officials have employed the July 4th weekend surge blame game, in actuality the epidemic curve was already in rapid acceleration before the holiday. The more likely cause of this surge was Dr. Ferrer’s ill fated decision to open gyms, pools, hotels, professional sports and TV production on June 12th.


The current case rate in Los Angeles County is 8.49 new daily cases per 100,000 population. Since 8.49 is greater than 7, the County remains in the “purple” zone or “widespread” which is the highest risk level (see link below for a description of the new risk levels). So, no Dr. Ferrar, Los Angeles has not posted a number that qualifies for further reopening.


Neither has Riverside County qualified for further reopening as their rate stands at 8.29 new daily cases per 100,000 population (epidemic curve line in orange). You would think otherwise based on press headlines and health official Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s remarks to the Board of Supervisors. Curiously, the county is listed in the “red” zone of “substantial” spread defined as 4-7 cases per 100,000. By my math, 8.29 is greater than 7. The data which I analyzed comes directly from Riverside County’s reporting website.


Another interesting feature of Riverside County’s epidemic curve is a distinctive two peak appearance – no other county has this feature. Riverside County reported quite low numbers from late April until early June – generally about 50% of those rates seen in neighboring Los Angeles. However, after a disastrous May 8th Board of Supervisors meeting where officials unanimously voted to overturn the same public health mandates keeping the county safe, infection rates skyrocketed. Distinct maximums are noted at 7/17 and again 8/14. While the 7/17 peak most likely reflects increased transmission from the July 4th Holiday, the cause 8/14 peak is less clear. Inexplicably, Supervisor Jeff Hewitt is now advocating for Riverside County to again set its own course rather than following State guidelines. I’m not sure why constituents would give the ball in the 9th inning to the same guy who seriously blew his last save.


Best of the counties is Orange County. Justifiably vilified for their very public June 8th rejection of public health mandates (and death threats against Health Director Dr. Nichole Quick, who later resigned), the county had a rapid rise in cases soon afterwards, peaking the week of July 3rd. Interestingly, Orange County did not see a surge of cases due to the July 4th Holiday and has had a steady march downwards in cases since their peak. Currently there are 4.85 new daily cases per 100,000 population, placing them in the “red” or substantial category (curiously the State website lists them in “orange” but substantial when orange is actually moderate – is your head spinning with colors yet?). They are on the edge of “moderate” defined as 1-3.9 cases per 100,000.


Orange County press reports describe their case numbers as “rosy” (to add to the color coordination confusion). Although they are best in regional class, they did increase from the week of 9/11 to 9/18 (4.78 to 4.85). In fact, all three counties had increased rates from 9/11 to 9/18 which, perhaps, could be a prelude to a Labor Day surge.


Time will tell. I’d caution against getting ahead of ourselves – we’ve learned this lesson once – well, actually three times. Once in each county.
Links:

California State Metrics: https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/


Los Angeles County Reopening: https://deadline.com/2020/09/los-angeles-county-coronavirus-update-cases-transmission-now-increasing-just-as-l-a-is-on-verge-of-reopening-further-1234583028/


Los Angeles County July 4th Blame Game: https://www.smdp.com/covid-surge-linked-to-holiday-weekend/194482

Riverside County Reopening: https://www.pe.com/2020/09/22/riverside-county-moves-to-less-restrictive-red-tier-in-state-coronavirus-reopening-plan/


Orange County Reopening: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-09-22/orange-county-eyes-move-to-next-coronavirus-tier

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