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COVID-19 by the Numbers: Is Policy or Ideology Driving Los Angeles County Surge?

Updated: Jun 25, 2020 09:15
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It’s no secret that the U.S. has long assumed the leading role in spreading the 2019 novel coronavirus. 

We’ve lost 121,622 lives nationally to COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.   

Los Angeles County alone, with a massive population of a little more than 10 million people, is reporting the highest number of confirmed cases in the nation — as of Wednesday, 88,512 positive test results have been reported there. The infection rate in LA County is nearly 876 per 100,000 people.

Los Angeles County COVID-19 status report on June 24, 2020. (Infographic courtesy of Johns Hopkins University)

That per capita infection rate is just about half of what’s been seen in New York City and in Cook County, Illinois, which includes the city of Chicago. But whereas those formerly hotspot areas are beginning to flatten their curves, California is stubbornly ramping up. LA County and its neighbors are largely to blame for the surge. 

According to the California Coronavirus COVID-19 Statewide Update ranking of all 58 counties by number of cumulative cases, Southern California counties account for the top five spots. LA, Riverside, San Diego, Orange and San Bernardino counties contribute more than 70 percent of the state’s total.

Highest ranking California counties in terms of cumulative COVID-19 confirmed cases as of June 24, 2020. (Infographic courtesy of California Coronavirus COVID-19 Statewide Update)

While it’s true that LA County, which covers 4,751 square miles, is far more populated than San Francisco, the density is somewhat comparable. For context, the San Francisco infection rate is just about 364 per 100,000 residents — that’s more than 40 percent lower than what LA County is experiencing. 

We can scale that comparison out over the entire nine-county Bay Area region and see a similar reporting reality.

It’s estimated that somewhere around 7.6 million people currently live in the greater Bay Area, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma counties. SFBay, which tracks daily Covid-19 cases and deaths, reported 20,625 positive cases in the Bay Area as of Tuesday evening. 

Overall, the Bay Area infection rate is just shy of 3 percent of the total population across the 7,000-square mile region. At this point Wednesday, nearly 9 percent of LA County’s 10,098,052 residents have been infected with the virus. 

If we look to local leadership and COVID-19 health orders to try and identify where things went so horribly wrong down there, we can see some marked differences. For example, LA County was granted a state variance at the end of May and immediately permitted reopening of all indoor retail, many beauty services and restaurants to 60 percent capacity. 

Although several Bay Area counties have also begun moving further into the second phase of reopening with approved variances, the dense city and county of San Francisco just recently requested the state variance. Pending that approval, businesses like hair salons and restaurants are hoping to reopen Monday, almost exactly one month after LA County forged ahead.

It’s been widely argued that sustained street protests are contributing to the national spike. While large gatherings have an impact on infection rates, the level of protest activity has been comparable between the northern and southern ends of the state. However, lesser mentioned “reopen” protests were far more prevalent and highly attended in Southern California than were seen up north.

Protesters demonstrate against stay-at-home orders that were put in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Friday, April 17, 2020, in Huntington Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Many protesters in those cases chose to go without face masks or coverings. On a national basis, masks have oddly become a symbolic political issue.

It’s hard to determine if the alarming situation in LA County derives from local policies or ideology, but combination of the two factors definitely contribute to the greater and growing problem.

A thorough analysis of how LA County has reacted to the pandemic, especially in contrast to other areas that have more effectively mitigated spread, is a venture well worth the effort so the same mistakes aren’t repeated.


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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.