The number of coronavirus infections throughout California continues to rise steadily as counties further lift stay-at-home restrictions amid increasing efforts to restore the battered economy.
On Monday, health officials reported nearly 3,100 cases, bringing the total to more than 134,000 infections in the state.
California surpassed 100,000 cases a little less than two weeks ago and has reported at least 2,000 infections every day since.
The bulk of the state’s infections and deaths are still occurring in Los Angeles County, where nearly 64,700 people have contracted the virus and more than 2,600 people have died. On Saturday and Sunday, officials announced 81 more deaths — the highest number of deaths reported over a weekend in more than a month.
Officials have said the increase in the number of cases partly stems from an increase in testing. But although testing remains the biggest weapon in the fight against the disease —absent a vaccine or other medical therapies — results are not always accurate.
Los Angeles County announced it was shifting testing methods at drive-through sites to nasal swabs over oral swabs. On Monday, Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of health services for L.A. County, said officials thought the specimen collection by nasal swabs was of better quality than specimens collected via mouth and would likely lead to fewer false negatives.
“The likelihood of getting the correct test result is higher than it is with the oral swabs,” Ghaly said.
The incubation period of the virus can take up to 14 days, so it’s too soon to tell if there’s been a surge in cases connected to the protests against police brutality and inequality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Monday encouraged anyone who had been at a protest or large gathering to get tested. But she warned that when a test was done too early after possible exposure to the coronavirus, it could result in a false negative as there might not yet be enough of the virus to detect.
It’s unclear how many people have falsely tested negative for the virus. So far, more than 700,800 of the county’s 10 million residents have been tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Of those, 8% have tested positive, health officials say.
If a person doesn’t have symptoms, Ferrer said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the individual is not a carrier.
“I do want to say that there is, unequivocally, asymptomatic spread. So I don’t want anyone to get confused that people who are asymptomatic may not be capable of spreading. They are in fact capable of spreading. And we all need to keep that in mind. The question is: How much are they spreading?”
In fact, health officials in L.A. County are detecting an uptick in disease transmission.
After the “effective transmission rate” of the virus fell from its original 3 to 3½ — meaning one infected person on average transmitted the virus to an average of three or 3½ other people — the rate dipped to its lowest point in mid-May to just under 1.
But the transmission rate has begun to climb again, causing further worry among health officials about the potential for a second wave. They had warned of a possible surge in cases after many stay-at home restrictions were eased in advance of the Memorial Day weekend.