The Future and COVID-19


The plan was to reopen businesses slowly, to take a step-by-step approach, but even with those precautions in place warnings were issued by the Los Angeles County Public Health Dept. that numbers of COVID-19 cases were expected to rise. One of the last things on the list to reopen was, and is, sporting events that would see thousands of people gathered closely together.

That crowd scenario materialized sooner than planned due to recent protests throughout the country and the world. Although many protestors are wearing masks, social distancing during marches is difficult. So what does this mean for researchers who are tracing COVID-19? It is a waiting game as everyone keeps a watchful eye on any change in the COVID-19 numbers and, particularly, where those changes are focused.

“It is important to remember there will be a time delay between any changes,” said Dr. Sharon Balter, director of the Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Division, LA County Public Health.

Since the timing of many phased reopenings coincided with the beginning of many of the protests, it will be difficult to pinpoint what caused a rise in case numbers.

“We want to emphasize there will be a delay,” Balter reiterated. “The infection can last for a while; many won’t feel sick or [will think] it’s just a cold. The more severe [effects] take longer to [be felt]. It [can take] a number of weeks.”

There are things that health officials are asking people to do to help minimize the risk to themselves as well as minimizing risks to others.

“We want to urge people to educate themselves on what they can do,” Balter said. “It is important to stay [at least] six feet away from others and to wear a mask.”

Those who feel they have been exposed to the virus are advised to stay home for 14 days. COVID-19 has an average incubation period of about five days, and those who contract the virus can exhibit symptoms between 11 and 14 days.

The concerns centered on reopening businesses and the protests are that so many people are exposed to others who may be infected then they [go] home to those who live with them.

“You may have people at home who are vulnerable. Try to stay six feet apart and possibly even wear a face mask to protect them,” she said.

The public is encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 if they are exposed to someone known to have contracted the virus.

“Testing is a moment in time,” Balter warned. “You can be negative today and positive tomorrow.”

“Risks are always higher in confined spaces,” she added. “There is more risk inside than outside.”

Restaurants that are reopening are adjusting to limited seating and, when possible, offering outside dining. Hiking trails, as well as other outdoor activities, have reopened, too, but it is still important to wear face masks and remember to social distance.

Balter said it is unlikely that herd immunity has played a role in the numbers going down or leveling off in LA County. 

“When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection – or herd immunity [also called herd protection] – to those who are not immune to the disease. For example, if 80% of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further). In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending how contagious an infection is, usually 70% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity,” according to John Hopkins.

Diseases like measles, mumps and polio are infectious diseases that were once common but are now rare in the U.S. because vaccines helped establish herd immunity, according to John Hopkins.

There are occasional outbreaks of those diseases, like the outbreak of measles at Disneyland in 2014 that eventually was traced to children who had not been vaccinated, according to CDC.

There is no vaccine for COVID-19 as of now. Balter feels that the reason there has been a reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases was because many people adhered to the advice of social distancing and the wearing of face masks in the early stages of the Safer-At-Home Order.

“People need to continue to be aware,” Balter said. “This is a new virus, not even a year [old]. Many viruses have a personality.”

She added researchers are watching closely how the virus has progressed and is progressing.

“We are all very concerned about a reopening surge [in COVID-19 cases],” she said.

Even if a surge does not happen in the next month, researchers feel that as fall approaches when other viruses and diseases typically appear, like the flu, there will be more cases of COVID-19 as well. That is why researchers from the CDC and LA County Public Health want to remind the public to take precautions during the summer. Remember to wash hands often including before, during and after preparing food, before eating, before and after caring for someone at home who is sick, before and after treating a cut or wound, after using the toilet, after changing diapers, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, after touching an animal, feeding an animal or picking up animal waste and touching garbage, according to guidelines from CDC.

“Even though things are reopening, the risks are still there,” Balter said.

Contact tracing is very important in following the virus.

“If you get diagnosed with COVID, someone from Public Health will call you,” she said.

The Public Health representative will guide people as to what they should do including isolating and how to protect others in their household.

“They will ask them for the names of people you could have been [close] to 48 hours before feeling sick,” she said.

The representative will then call those people to let them know they have been exposed and to understand that testing is a moment in time and to stay home for 14 days.

The theory is that if researchers can reach the one person who has COVID-19 and contact all the people around that one person before they get sick, that will help contain the spread of the virus.

For more information on COVID-19, visit LA County Public Health at