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Letter to the Editor

Experts seem to disagree on spike cause following “beach crowding” weekend

There seems to be some discussion as to what has caused the large spike in coronavirus cases reported in Orange County since the weekend of April 25th and 26th, when, coincidentally, large crowds descended on the beaches. In the week that ended on April 26, there were 441 new COVID-19 cases in Orange County. The following week that figure jumped to 664 new cases reported and the week after that 787 cases.

Experts need to make further investigations to determine specifically the cause of these large spikes in coronavirus cases which could be explained partially by factors such as increased testing. 

Dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious disease expert who was also a former epidemic intelligence officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was interviewed by a regional newspaper (LA Times), and the local paper, as well, this week, and said that he noticed a steep rise in Orange County’s cases in the days following the weekend of April 25 and 26, after which Governor Newsom ordered the beaches closed. In addition to the stats, the Governor pointed to photos of Orange County beaches showing little social distancing among the crowds. Also, although not required on Orange County beaches, there were no examples of beach goers wearing masks.

The crowds that gathered in protest after the beach closures definitely defied the health officials’ contention that such lack of social distancing and face masks also constituted risky behavior and could have increased the statistics.

Dr. Rutherford leaves the door open for other possible causes of the large spikes in Orange County, but nonetheless, is quoted in two articles as saying, “But you know, just looking at it, there was a big jump in Orange County that was temporally consistent with possible transmission from that crowd event,” referring to the large crowd on the beaches on April 25-26.

Another health expert, Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of public health for San Francisco, is also quoted as saying, “We are seeing spikes in infections in Southern California commensurate with when the beaches became crowded. We have seen spikes of infections when people have gone to large gatherings at churches or birthday parties. We must be vigilant.”

Dr. Nichole Quick, Orange County’s health officer, said there’s no evidence at this time that crowded beaches were a factor in the increase in cases. She said, “As of now, that is not something we are pointing to as a cause of cases.” Since the County started ramping up its daily screening activity around April 28th, Quick points out, “As we test more, we’re likely to pick up more cases.”

On a similar theme, as Los Angeles begins to open up its beaches this week, a new protocol has been put in order: L.A. Mayor Garcetti announced this week that all Angelenos would be required to wear face coverings outside. If the infection rate in Orange County continues to rise, maybe the County Health Department or the mayors in Orange County will also wisely call for this protection.

Lynn Lorenz

Newport Beach