When it comes to the coronavirus, all curves are not created equal.
Rising curves are good news when it comes to the number of tests being performed, and we all know now they’re bad when it comes to tracking infections.
Over the last few weeks, the Bay Area’s curves have been a lot more desirable than L.A.’s.
A Bay Area News Group analysis shows most Bay Area counties are testing for the coronavirus at higher rates than Los Angeles County, even as the number of cases there appears to be soaring.
By the end of April, Los Angeles County had tested about 1,423 people per 100,000 residents and confirmed about 226 cases per 100,000 residents of the deadly disease. By comparison, San Francisco had tested nearly 2,109 of every 100,000 residents and confirmed only about 168 cases. In in just the last three days, LA had averaged more than a thousand positive cases a day, as it inches toward recording nearly half of California’s more than 50,000 cases.
“With testing, it can inform us to help us make interventions that can change the slope of the curve,” said John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley.
If a community tests robustly, like in San Francisco, he said, they are likely to have fewer problems than a community that has tried to respond to a public health crisis without as much information.
“Without testing, they don’t know where they are,” Swartzberg said. “The only way you solve the problem is to find out where it is and attack it. And the only way you find out where it is, is by testing.”
Los Angeles County recently announced some changes that could provoke a change in future data. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that all county residents will have access to free coronavirus testing — even those without symptoms. So far, about 14 percent of people tested have been positive. In San Francisco, about 9 percent have come back positive.
Warner Greene of the Gladstone Institutes of Virology and Immunology suspects the fact that many people in Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California, where weather has warmed up, are tired of being told to stay home may also be leading to more new cases. Huge crowds along the coast in Orange County prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to announce beaches closures there, which on Friday sparked angry protests as backlash.
“It’s quite possible that there’s just less social distancing,” Greene said. “I think there’s a lot of COVID-19 fatigue.”
Santa Clara County has a testing rate — roughly 1,469 people per 100,000 — just slightly higher than Los Angeles County, but a dramatically lower case rate that has remained largely flat for more than a week. San Mateo is in the middle, with a higher testing rate than Santa Clara and more positive cases per 100,000 residents, but still far fewer than in Los Angeles County.
While Santa Clara County’s public health department might have been at the forefront, officials across the Bay Area ordered residents to shelter in place, set up testing sites and took other steps early on that have helped prevent an overwhelming surge in cases.
“We acted early and we acted aggressively,” Swartzberg said. “They deserve a lot of credit for that.”
Still, Greene said, the fight against the virus that has killed more than 2,000 people in California, is nowhere near over.
“We’ve done a really good job,” he said. “I just worry about are we going to continue to do a really good job? We’re in a different phase of fighting this virus and there’s a lot of fatigue and a lot of mixed messaging. But until we have a vaccine, the only thing we have are public health measures like social distancing.”
Why the Bay Area’s coronavirus ‘curves’ look better than LA’s