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L.A. County announces 6 new coronavirus deaths as hospitals fill up in California

Los Angeles County public health officials on Saturday announced six new deaths from the coronavirus and 344 additional cases, bringing the county’s total to 32 deaths and 1,817 cases.

About a third of the cases — 601 — were confirmed in the past 48 hours, officials said. As of Saturday, 398 people, or about 22% of positive cases, had at some point been hospitalized.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said the increase in cases means that it’s more crucial than ever to practice social distancing and self-isolate if one is feeling sick with even mild illness.

“If we all commit ourselves to stay home, stay away from others when sick and stay six feet apart when out, we will save lives,” Ferrer said in a statement.

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As coronavirus deaths in California topped 100, leaving officials struggling to slow the spread through ever-increasing restrictions on movements, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday the federal government had sent Los Angeles County 170 ventilators that arrived “not working,” and now a San Jose company is fixing the equipment.

California and other states have been stocking up on ventilators in anticipation of a shortage at hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newsom said hospitals statewide already are seeing a surge in patients, with the number of people in intensive care units doubling overnight, from 200 people Friday to 410 Saturday. Hospitalizations overall rose 38.6%, from 746 Friday to 1,034 Saturday, he said.

“That is a significant, sizable increase, and if trends continue along those lines, then we will start to manifest conditions that are very familiar to people on the East Coast,” he said at a press conference with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Saturday at a Bloom Energy refurbishing site in Sunnyvale.

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The first-term Democrat said he learned about a problem with the federal government’s ventilators when he visited Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Friday.

“Rather than lamenting about it, rather than complaining about it, rather than pointing fingers, rather than generating headlines in order to generate more stress and anxiety, we got a car and a truck,” Newsom said. “And we had those 170 brought here to this facility at 8 a.m. this morning, and they are quite literally working on those ventilators right now.”

The governor said the ventilators came from the national stockpile, a supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Bloom’s core business is repairing and refurbishing fuel-cell power generators sold to large companies and nonprofits. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom said, the company is refurbishing more than 500 older ventilators owned by the state. The governor said the company will also fix and return the 170 ventilators the federal government sent to Los Angeles by Monday.

“That’s the spirit of California,” Newsom said. “That’s the spirit of this moment.”

In total, the state has procured and identified 4,252 ventilators toward a goal of securing 10,000 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom said. Public health officials have said they expect to see a surge in cases across the state in the coming weeks.

Newsom said the Trump administration has not yet fulfilled the state’s request for ventilators and separately sent the 170 ventilators to L.A. County.

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As the number of cases continued to rise across California, enforcement of orders to keep beaches, parks and hiking trails clear appeared to tighten this weekend after images of people flocking to popular outdoor spots drew the ire of government officials.

A Ventura County sheriff’s department cruiser could be seen guarding the entrance to a popular trail in the Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, upon which hundreds of hikers and families descended last Saturday. In Venice, a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter could be seen circling above a skate park, making an announcement that persons who did not leave the area would be “arrested for trespassing.”

Despite park and trail closures in Santa Monica, Amy Weber managed to spend her Saturday morning outdoors at a farmer’s market. Weber said organizers did a good job maintaining enough distance between people inside the market. Waiting in line outside, people smiled and chatted.

“There’s just something about being outside that makes you feel a little bit fresher, cleaner,” Weber said.

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Afterward, Weber walked to Palisades Park, where she spent the late morning taking in views of the ocean. She got to the bottom of the California Incline footpath to the beach and saw a wire chain with a sign saying it was temporarily closed. Down below, she saw people biking and walking on the beach path.

By 1 p.m., police vehicles making their way south were slowing near her. Officers announced over an intercom: “We would like to remind you that Palisades Park is closed. Please practice social distancing as you’re exiting the park.”

Weber was glad for the enforcement, saying she hopes that shutting things down will mean the country recovers from coronavirus quicker.

“If we keep doing this in tiny little bits and nobody’s adhering to it, I’m just afraid it’s going to continue,” she said.

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For now, Weber said she’s content with looking at the beach from afar, smelling the salty air and feeling the ocean breeze.

Residents of other West L.A. neighborhoods were less tranquil Saturday, as power outages continued to cause headaches in parts of Beverlywood, Cheviot Hills, Century City, Pico-Robertson and Westwood. Stella Gardiner, a legal assistant who lives in Pico-Robertson, said she had been dealing with sporadic power outages since Thursday and was growing concerned about how the loss of electricity might affect older residents in her area.

“There are people with health problems,” she said. “God knows they may have medical equipment they need.”

A total of 20 people died of the virus in California on Friday alone, with deaths reported by Contra Costa, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Orange, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Ventura counties.

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The person who died in Kern County, the county’s first in the coronavirus pandemic, was identified by friends as Susie Garcia, 48, of Delano, according to local media outlets. They believe she contracted the virus during a recent visit to San Jose, according to the media reports.

On Saturday, San Francisco reported an additional death, bringing its total to four deaths and 308 cases. So did Orange County, which reached four deaths and 403 cases.

There are now nearly 5,000 cases of coronavirus infection in the state, and officials believe that number will skyrocket with aggressive new testing.

Also among the recent victims was a 25-year-old pharmacy technician from San Diego who was found dead Wednesday in a hotel residence in the Coachella Valley, said Brooke Federico, Riverside County’s public information officer. The man had no underlying health conditions that may have contributed to his death. He has not been identified.

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“This is a deeply saddening reminder that COVID-19 kills the young and healthy too,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, said.

In Los Angeles County, health officials reported five more fatalities due to COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll to 26, the highest of any county in the state. All five of the victims reported Friday were older than 60, and four were men, officials said.

Almost 11,000 people had been tested for the coronavirus in L.A. County as of Friday. The number of confirmed cases rose to 1,482, a 20% increase from the previous day.

On Saturday, Long Beach, which has its own public health department, announced that it had recorded 88 cases of the virus, including one Long Beach police officer and four Long Beach firefighters. Nine other Long Beach firefighters have tested positive but are not included in the city’s total because they are not Long Beach residents, officials said.

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In San Bernardino County, 12 people at a Yucaipa nursing facility tested positive for the virus Saturday after a resident of the facility died of COVID-19 earlier in the week, county health officials said. At least one of the people who tested positive worked at the facility, which officials did not immediately name.

The 89-year-old woman had underlying health conditions and died Thursday, officials said.

In addition, a resident of a second Yucaipa nursing facility has symptoms of the illness, officials said. County public health staffers are working with both facilities to expedite testing of all residents and employees, they said.

“This is the first instance we have had in our county of a concentrated COVID-19 outbreak,” said Erin Gustafson, acting county health officer, in a statement. “The county will do everything within its ability and authority to minimize the tragedy this pandemic has the potential to create in our communities.”

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The L.A. County Department of Public Health is monitoring 14 institutional facilities that have reported one or more confirmed cases of the virus among residents and staff, including three extended care homes that have reported three or more cases, officials said Friday.

Those reporting three or more cases are the Kensington Redondo Beach assisted living facility, Belmont Village senior living in Hollywood and Alameda Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Burbank, said Ferrer. Staff, residents and their families have been notified of the outbreaks, and officials have identified no deficiencies at any of the facilities, she said.

In addition, Silverado Beverly Place, a nursing home in the Fairfax district, has reported three cases — a man admitted to the facility last week, followed by a second resident and an employee, according to family members of residents and representatives of the facility.

Officials continue to warn that Los Angeles could soon resemble New York City, the center of the nation’s coronavirus epidemic, which has reported more than 26,000 cases and more than 450 deaths. The state of New York has more than 52,000 cases, more than nine times as many as in California.

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“In less than a week ... we’ve more than tripled the number of people here in L.A. County who are positive for COVID-19,” Ferrer said.

She warned that if the spread of the virus was not slowed, the region’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed.

Epidemiologists say they expect L.A. County’s case numbers to continue to grow, but that social distancing may help stave off a repeat of New York’s rapid spread. The measures went into effect in California early enough that they could have a significant impact, experts say.

In the latest effort to encourage people to remain at home, L.A. County on Friday closed all of its beaches, along with piers, beach bike paths, public trails and trailheads. The city of Los Angeles followed suit Friday night, announcing the closure of park facilities, trailheads and trails.

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Officials say it’s too soon to tell whether the attempts to curb the virus’ spread are working.

Dr. Jacob Quinton, an internal medicine physician at UCLA, said doctors in L.A. and other cities that have not been hit yet as badly as New York are preparing for what the next weeks may hold.

“Many of us are sort of taking a deep breath before the plunge, and getting ready to meet the challenges that come,” he said. “Those that are already inundated with COVID cases are in the thick of a fight that feels very much like the defining medical challenge of our lives.”

Newsom said this week that California would need 50,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, a significant increase from the 20,000 beds his administration had forecast last week. The state’s 416 hospitals are doubling so-called surge plans to 40% of their capacity, which includes providing 30,000 new beds across the system, Newsom said.

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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said only 1,500 beds in Los Angeles and about 900 ventilators in the county are available now. The city is sorting through credentials for the more than 2,700 medical workers who have volunteered to help, he said.

The Navy hospital ship Mercy arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday. The 1,000-bed vessel will become Los Angeles’ largest hospital and will house patients who do not have COVID-19 to free up space in hospitals for an expected surge of coronavirus patients. Patients could begin transferring to the ship this weekend, officials said.

The virus also has changed the way the state’s legal system is operating.

Newsom issued an order Friday giving California’s chief justice broad powers, including the right to suspend laws during the health crisis.

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State law is filled with deadlines, many to protect the rights of criminal defendants, public access requirements and rules about how legal matters should to be conducted.

Newsom’s order gives Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, authority to suspend these legal requirements during the pandemic. Courts in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Alameda counties have already severely restricted their calendars due to the fear of an outbreak in cramped courtrooms or a spread to local jails.

Earlier this week, Cantil-Sakauye issued an order suspending all trials statewide for 60 days.

Times Staff Writer James Queally contributed to this report.


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