As both the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in Los Angeles County rose by more than half Thursday, public health officials warned that the trajectory of new infections would likely grow dire in the coming weeks. .
Health officials reported nine new deaths, bringing the death toll to 21. Officials also reported 421 more confirmed cases of the virus, for a total of 1,229, an increase of 52% over Wednesday.
“There is no projection in which a couple weeks from now, we’re doing fine,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday night. "... A week or two from now, we will have images like we’re seeing in New York here in Los Angeles.”
New York, the national epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, has had 385 deaths, more than four times as many as California. Hospitals there need thousands more ventilators to keep the most serious COVID-19 patients breathing.
Of the people in Los Angeles County who tested positive, 253 — or roughly 1 in 5 — were hospitalized at some point, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
If each person who has tested positive for the virus infected two others, Ferrer said, “within a few weeks there could be over a million people that would be infected in L.A. County.” Los Angeles officials have ordered all those who tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate, along with those in close contact with the infected.
Staying home and practicing social distancing in public places could help slow the spread of the virus, creating “one less bed, one less person who’s suffering in a hallway, one less doctor who has to decide who lives and who dies,” Garcetti said.
Officials did not disclose any information about the nine people whose deaths were reported Thursday; in some cases, family was still being notified, they said.
Two deaths previously reported by the county have been dropped from the total. One was found to be a resident of a different county and the other, a Lancaster teenager, may have died of other causes.
Earlier this week, health officials cautioned residents that as testing capacity increased throughout Los Angeles County, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus would rise.
After conducting limited testing in the first weeks of the outbreak, city and county officials announced Monday that they had partnered with Seegene Technologies Inc., a South Korea test kit manufacturer, to buy and process 20,000 new tests for the coronavirus.
The United States has surpassed Italy and China in having the most confirmed coronavirus cases, according to a global case tracker run by Johns Hopkins University. By Thursday afternoon, the U.S. had reported more than 82,400 cases, above 81,700 in China and 80,500 in Italy.
Italy still tops the list of countries with the most coronavirus deaths, reporting more than 8,200. Spain has reported more than 4,100 deaths, and China more than 3,200.The U.S. has reported more than 1,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
President Trump told governors in a letter Thursday that the federal government is working on new standards for categorizing counties as high, medium or low risk. Trump said the plan would involve “robust surveillance testing” to “monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country.”
“There is still a long battle ahead, but our efforts are already paying dividends,” he wrote. “As we enhance protections against the virus, Americans across the country are hoping the day will soon arrive when they can resume their normal economic, social, and religious lives.”
The letter is a further sign that Trump is eager to relax federal guidelines on school closures and limiting social gatherings in order to boost the stalled economy. Public health experts have warned that the president is moving prematurely and there’s not enough information to show that the pandemic’s progress has slowed.
California’s top medical advisor said Wednesday that COVID-19 cases in the state continued to double every three to four days. That pace, he said, is on par with New York, where some hospitals are packed.
If that rate holds, California hospitals could see a surge in patients in one to two weeks, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said during a Facebook news conference.
“We originally thought that it would be doubling every six to seven days; we see cases doubling every three to four days,” Ghaly said. "[We’re] watching that trend very, very closely.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom is traveling to Los Angeles Friday to meet with Garcetti and Los Angeles County public health officials. Newsom and the mayor will tour the hospital ship USNS Mercy, which the federal government deployed to the Port of Los Angeles to help free up beds at local hospitals.
With 1,000 beds, the ship will be the largest hospital in Los Angeles, Garcetti said.
San Francisco leaders said Wednesday that the city could face a crisis similar to that of New York City and fall short of 1,500 ventilators and 5,000 hospital beds. Mayor London Breed said during a news conference that it was “not even a question as to whether we will need more.”
Nicholas Jewell, a biostatistics researcher at UC Berkeley who has been tracking the pandemic, said the coronavirus was spreading rapidly throughout the U.S., at a rate quicker than or on par with countries hit the hardest.
While the state continues to try to gain a clear picture of the outbreak, Jewell said the expected surge in the coming weeks did not mean social distancing and shelter-in-place orders were not working.
“We knew going in we will not see any impact of shelter in place for at least two to three weeks,” he said. “We have to be patient at this point and stay the course.”
Newsom echoed that message and said the state had early data indicating the measures might be slowing the virus’ spread.
“We know it’s had an impact on bending that curve and buying us time,” Newsom said. “Every day, that is another day that we’re getting more assets, more physical and human resources, prepared for a worst-case scenario.”
That includes 12 cases among members of the Los Angeles Police Department, a Los Angeles Valley College faculty member, and a student at East Los Angeles College.
Cases of the virus continued to tick upward elsewhere in the state.
San Bernardino County recorded 54 COVID-19 cases and two fatalities from the disease Thursday. The number of confirmed cases has tripled in less than a week; on Monday, there were only 17.
Two men — a 50-year-old and a 46-year-old — died of the coronavirus this week. Both had underlying health conditions, according to the county. Acting County Health Officer Dr. Erin Gustafson said in a statement that the deaths were a “sad reminder of the seriousness of this pandemic.”
“At the same time,” she said, “for all of us it emphasizes the importance of staying at home when we can and practicing good hygiene and social distancing.”
In Riverside County, 107 COVID-19 cases were confirmed as of Thursday.
Eight people died this month in Riverside County because of the virus. All of those individuals were 70 or older and some had underlying health conditions, said county spokeswoman Brooke Federico. Seven of those deaths were in the Coachella Valley, and one was in the mid-region of the county.
Statewide, more than 3,100 of those tested have been confirmed to have infections.
Public health officials emphasized that the actual number of people infected is almost certainly higher, but an accurate count is impossible because so few tests have been given.
Newsom announced that testing in the state had been conducted on more than 66,800 people but said that was insufficient to give an accurate picture of what was happening. As of Tuesday, at least 22 state laboratories, seven hospitals and two private outfits were conducting tests.
UCLA Health sent a message to patients in its network Thursday announcing its capability to administer 500 COVID-19 tests daily “in different clinic locations throughout the region and within our hospitals.” Test results will be available in two to four days, according to the message.
Times staff writers Ron Lin, Phil Willon, Maura Dolan, Nina Agrawal, Richard Winton and Sonali Kohli contributed to this report.