LOS ANGELES—At the start of the year here, hospitals were full, restaurants were empty, and three times more Covid-19 cases were being reported every day than in any other U.S. county.
Now Los Angeles County has one of the lowest rates of infection per capita of the nation’s 10 most populous counties. Restaurants are packed, hospitals have open beds, and researchers are studying possible reasons for one of the pandemic’s biggest turnarounds, which has occurred despite vaccination rates lower than the national average. Their theories include high immunity caused by previous spikes and a common variant in California that may be keeping out more infectious strains.
As case rates have fallen across the country in recent months, California has led the way. It now has the lowest per capita Covid infection rate in the continental U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thanks in large part to Los Angeles County, where a quarter of the state’s 40 million people live.
About 20% of Covid tests were coming back positive in Los Angeles County in early January, with more than 15,000 new cases and 250 deaths reported most weekdays and more than 1,600 intensive care beds taken by coronavirus patients. In the past week, the positivity rate has been hovering around or below 1%. There are around 400 new cases and fewer than 50 deaths reported most days and just under 500 people are currently hospitalized with Covid-19.
“It’s a dramatic decrease,” said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health. She said it would take months before there were definitive answers about why the Covid rates have come down so sharply, but several factors are likely at play.