For the fourth time in the past week, Los Angeles County reported a record number of COVID-19 patients in area hospitals, while health officials said the recent spike in cases can be attributed to people failing to adhere to social distancing and other infection-control measures.
According to the county Department of Public Health, 2,232 people were hospitalized due to the coronavirus as of today, up from Sunday's record number of 2,216. Health officials said 26% of those patients were in intensive care.
The county announced another nine deaths due to the virus, although one of those fatalities was reported previously by health officials in Pasadena. Fatality numbers announced by the county are often lower on Mondays due to lags in weekend reporting.
The new deaths lifted the countywide total to 4,104.
Another 3,160 cases were confirmed by the county, raising the overall total from the start of the pandemic to 159,045.
Public health director Barbara Ferrer said the average daily positivity rate among people tested for the virus over the past seven days was about 8% -- above the statewide rate of 7.2%.
Health and elected officials, most notably Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, have warned in recent days that the area is on the brink of returning to stricter stay-at-home orders that might mean more widespread business closures and restrictions on public activities.
County officials said today the way to avoid such a move is clear -- more vigilance about wearing face coverings in public, practicing physical distancing, avoiding public gatherings and parties and family get-togethers, and ensuring proper hygiene such as hand-washing.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer gave a detailed presentation today about contact-tracing efforts, which can help track where patients became infected and get people who may have been exposed to quarantine themselves to stop future spread.
But she said contact-tracing alone cannot stop the spread of the virus due to the "sheer magnitude" of the community spread of the illness.
"The number one driver of the surge that we're experiencing today is simple to identify," she said. "People are interacting with each other and they're not adhering to the recommended prevention measures. Contact tracing will not solve that."
She said contact tracing does play a major role in the county's effort to get ahead of the spread and reach people who may be unknowingly spreading the virus. Ferrer said the county is allocating $10 million to outreach efforts to community organizations to ensure residents get connected with services and support if they have to isolate or quarantine.
The county has also begun offering $20 gift cards as an incentive for people who test positive for the virus to take part in the contact-tracing interview process, an hourlong process that Ferrer acknowledged can be stressful and requires people to look through their calendars and work schedules to identify their movements over recent weeks.
Ferrer said the county has also established a call center that coronavirus-positive patients can call -- 833-540-0473 -- to be connected with available resources. The county is also starting to use text messaging to keep in touch with people under quarantine orders to check on their condition, she said.
"Our hope is that through better communication and the availability of additional support, individuals who are positive and their close contacts will be willing to work with public health to avoid spreading the virus," she said.