Contextualizing the surge: the 556% increase that has health officials concerned

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During its Tuesday, Dec. 8 meeting, the Long Beach City Council received a behemoth of a report from the Health Department. In their multi-hour discussion on the report, councilmembers bumped heads about the best course of action for reducing the spread of COVID-19.

One thing was certain. Across all metrics—case counts, hospitalizations, positivity rate and intensive care unit capacity— the situation is worsening.

“This pandemic is not getting better, it’s getting worse across the United States. And that is also the case in Long Beach and in the State of California,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “Every day in this country, we are seeing 9/11-level events when it relates to deaths. 9/11 is repeating itself every single day in this country due to this pandemic.”

“That is horrifying and it should be alarming to all of us,” he continued. “Especially when cases continue to skyrocket and when the numbers are going in the wrong direction.”

Second surge more substantial than first

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Long Beach Health Department has tracked seven-day averages in case counts. They use these metrics to identify surges, pockets of time with substantial case numbers.

The first surge represented a 183% increase over a seven-day average.

In the current surge, from Nov. 5 to Dec. 5, cases have increased 556% in overall cases, from a daily case count of 39 cases to 285 cases.

The virus has an incubation period of two to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today is the fourteenth day of that incubation period. The full extent of Thanksgiving transmission and subsequent infections has not yet come to fruition.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, both city health officials and city council members voiced concern that the surge will continue into 2021.

“We have not reached the two-week mark since Thanksgiving, and Christmas is coming,” Councilmember Rex Richardson said. “I’m afraid of what the new few weeks will continue to hold. I thank heaven that we have a local public health agency that’s able to coordinate a local response.”

Richardson’s district consistently ranks as one of the most impacted by COVID-19. North and west Long Beach consistently rank highest, particularly in zip codes 90805, 90806 and 90813.

Situation worsening across the board

From November 1 to December 7:
• 456% increase in average daily cases (from 46 to 256)
• 517% increase in local area hospitalizations (29 to 179)
• 196% increase in Long Beach residents hospitalized (22 to 98)
• 338% increase in rate per 100,000 (9.5 to 41.7)
• 133% increase in positivity rate (9.5 to 41.7)
• 80% of Area Hospital intensive care unit capacity filled (20% capacity left)
• 89% of regional intensive care unit capacity filled (11% capacity left)

Infected population is shifting to a younger cohort

Early in the pandemic, most residents infected with COVID-19 were in their forties. Since May, this number has been trending downwards to residents in their thirties.

The median age of someone infected by COVID-19 as of November was 34.

The median age of residents infected with COVID-19 has decreased over time. The cohort of residents from age 25 to 49 has the highest rate of infection. (Courtesy City of Long Beach)

According to City Health Officer Anissa Davis, the main cause of transmission is being in close proximity with infected persons. In her report, she stated that more than 50% of exposures may come from pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

“That is another difficulty when we’re trying to stop COVID-19, is that it’s not just having symptoms that alerts you that you may be contagious and able to spread it to somebody else,” Davis said.

According to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard, the highest percentage of cases come from residents between the ages of 20 to 29, which make up 23.7% of total cases. They’re followed by residents 30 to 39, who make up 19.5% of cases, and then 40 to 49, who make up 15% of cases.

Hispanic and Latino residents hit hardest by infections

Throughout the pandemic, residents of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. As Long Beach braces for the continuing surge, that trend has continued.

Hispanic and Latino residents have a mortality rate of 123 per 100,000 when adjusted for age.

Black residents follow closely after, with a mortality rate of 89 per 100,000.

Asian residents have a mortality rate of 58 per 100,000, while white residents have the lowest mortality rate of 52 per 100,000.

“Where people are living is very much related to income, related to access to healthcare, related to overcrowded housing, in the most dense areas of the city and that plays out very clearly on our map,” Director of Health and Human Services Kelly Colopy said.

Areas in north and west Long Beach continue to have the highest number of cases, a trend that has been present since the beginning of the pandemic. This data exhibits cases as of Thursday, Dec. 10, but is being updated daily on the City’s COVID-19 dashboard. (Courtesy City of Long Beach) (Emma DiMaggio)

When will the stay-at-home order be lifted?

Under the state’s new health order, Long Beach has been grouped with several other counties in Southern California, representing a region that must increase its ICU capacity before returning to the tiered approach.

Once the region hits the threshold of 15% ICU capacity, cities will return to their county-level categorizations. Long Beach will return to being measured with Los Angeles County, and will likely return to the restrictive purple tier unless case numbers are substantially lowered across the county.

Met with contention about the importance of reopening small businesses, Councilmember Rex Richardson quoted Long Beach’s director of economic research at California State University Long Beach, “The economic cost of restrictive public health orders are much lower than the cost of failing to contain the virus and shutting down our economy again.”

“Stay at home orders are the economic medicine to prevent economic heart attacks.”

The next Long Beach city council meeting will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.

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