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As LA County Sets New Infection Record, State Leaders’ Behavior Sends Mixed Messages

California, like the rest of the nation, is seeing a dramatic rise in COVID infections and deaths — and Los Angeles County has some of the most dire statistics.

Health officials reported more than 7,500 new cases in the county on Tuesday, shattering the old record, set last week. Hospitalizations tripled in the past month, and on average 30 people are dying of COVID-19 in the county every day.

The most populous county in the country, Los Angeles leads all U.S. counties in raw numbers of both infections and deaths, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

On Monday, the county started a three-week stay-at-home order, and Gov. Gavin Newsom said a similar order for the whole state could prove necessary.

“If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic — arguably drastic — action,” Newsom said.

But even as the restrictions began in Los Angeles, leaders across California took heat for their do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do pandemic behavior.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl dined outdoors at a favorite restaurant shortly after she voted to ban outdoor dining, a local TV station reported.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo apologized for spending Thanksgiving with eight people from five households in his extended family.

And the San Francisco Chronicle reported that San Francisco Mayor London Breed joined a party of seven to dine at the famed French Laundry restaurant the day after Newsom did, angering many.

The questionable behavior threatens to overshadow alarming news about pandemic trends. Tuesday, California reported 20,759 new cases, a few hundred less than the record number of the day before. The state is in its worst situation since the pandemic started. Yet despite the record case numbers, California is so populous that it’s far from the top of the list of states with the most new cases per capita. (That spot was held by Montana on Wednesday.)

Newsom said Monday that Southern California is forecast to run out of intensive care unit capacity by mid-December if trends continue. By Christmas Eve, ICU beds are forecast to be at 107% of capacity across the region. There’s no clear plan in place for what to do when hospital demand outstrips capacity.

All races and ethnicities are seeing increases in cases, but disparities are widening. In Los Angeles County, Hispanics’ infection rate is more than twice that of whites.

“Death rates among people in high rates of poverty are three times the death rate of people in more affluent areas,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday.

Health officials estimate that one in every 200 people in the county has the virus and is infectious.

The hope is that the new restrictions of the stay-at-home order in Los Angeles County will slow that spread.

The order is designed to keep people in their homes as much as possible. It prohibits gatherings with anyone outside of a household and reduces capacity at stores. K-12 schools will continue to operate but at 20% capacity. Outdoor areas like beaches, parks and trails will remain open, but people are not allowed to gather.

Officials say they are trying to find a sweet spot where they can keep people from gathering and spreading the virus, but still allow some stores to remain open. Thus far the rules are less stringent than those imposed in the spring, because businesses owners have pushed back hard against more restrictions. They are losing money and, unlike in the spring, have no federal aid to offset their losses.

This story is from a reporting partnership that includes KPCCNPR and KHN.

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