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Healthcare worker among coronavirus victims as L.A. County death toll surpasses 50

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday tours the Bloom Energy company in Sunnyvale that has converted part of its factory from making fuel cells to refurbishing ventilators.
(Beth LaBerge / Pool)

Los Angeles County officials on Tuesday confirmed 10 new coronavirus-linked deaths and reported the first such fatality of a healthcare worker in the county.

During their daily briefing, officials reported an additional 548 confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total to more than 3,000. That number has tripled over the last week, Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The number of deaths in the county is at least 54.

The healthcare worker who died was older than 60, Ferrer said, and was included in Monday’s count. One of the 10 most recent patients who died was younger than 41.

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“These aren’t just numbers. These are real people being mourned by their families and friends,” she said.

To date, more than 19,000 people have been tested for the virus in the county. Ferrer said that of those who have tested positive, 594 have been hospitalized, including 267 currently in treatment.

Also Tuesday, L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said 10 firefighters have tested positive for the coronavirus. Seven have recovered and are back at work, while three remain isolated.

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Hospitals and nursing homes have emerged as the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus in California as the number of cases and deaths continues to rise.

In the last four days, the number of intensive care patients in the state has tripled — from 200 to 597 — and the number of hospitalizations has nearly doubled, from 746 to 1,432. By Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases had climbed to nearly 7,600 and deaths topped 150.

Alameda County reported 283 confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven deaths linked to the virus, as of Monday. The city of Berkeley, which has its own public health division, recorded 19 infected people.

The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that of the more than 1,300 tests the city conducted, 123 people tested positive for the coronavirus.

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The health department is operating a drive-through testing center for at-risk populations that includes healthcare workers and first responders. Between 25 to 30 tests are conducted there each day, officials said.

In Marin County, the death toll jumped to four after three additional victims were reported this week. Two men in their 60s and a woman in her 90s died, county spokeswoman Laine Hendricks said. The county has reported at least 99 cases, the bulk of which are among people ages 50 to 64.

Orange County announced three new deaths Tuesday as the number of confirmed infections surged to 502. Seven people have died as a result of COVID-19 in the county, and 94 have been hospitalized.

Coronavirus: Gov. Newsom has been steadfast in contending that his stay-at-home order should be enforced through persuasion, not punishment

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As cases continue to rise, seven Bay Area jurisdictions announced Tuesday that they would extend a previous stay-at-home order through the beginning of May. Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said Los Angeles may do the same.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said modeling suggests the state will need 50,000 new hospital beds by mid-May.

“We project that we will need that toward the second half of the month of May,” Ghaly said. “So we are very busy trying to build toward that.”

In an online address Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the city will have doubled its testing capacity by Thursday. Testing will also be opened up to the entire county Wednesday, he said.

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Amid concerns that construction workers are being exposed to the virus, the mayor also announced new construction guidelines that will require all construction sites to create a “COVID-19 exposure control plan.” Plans should include protocols for symptom checking, physical distancing, hygiene and decontamination, Garcetti said.

“As most of our city has stayed home or changed the way of doing business, much of our construction program has continued” he said, adding that it is important to continue critical infrastructure, but “never at the risk of anyone’s life.”

City inspectors will visit sites to enforce safety procedures, he added.

“We will not be shy about shutting down construction sites that do not comply,” he said. “So comply.”

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Garcetti acknowledged that staying at home and social distancing has been “tough” for Angelenos, and that “life feels fundamentally changed.”

“The deeper we abide by these rules, the quicker this can be over,” he said. “These are not ordinary times. Everyone has to keep making these temporary sacrifices for the common good.”

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an urgent call for retired healthcare workers and students nearing graduation to join in caring for an expected surge of coronavirus patients.

He said he believes the state can add 37,000 healthcare workers by asking recently retired providers, those in the process of getting a medical license in the state and students enrolled in medical or nursing schools to apply to the newly created California Health Corps.

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Newsom’s message to anyone with healthcare experience was clear: “We need you.”

Recent data suggest that social distancing practices could be working to slow the spread in California. Still, the epidemic could get dramatically worse. Several nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities across the state, including one San Francisco facility with more than 700 beds, are being monitored as potential hot spots of the virus.

Los Angeles County officials are investigating outbreaks at 11 area nursing homes — including Kensington Assisted Living in Redondo Beach, Alameda Care Center in Burbank and Silverado Beverly Place in Los Angeles — where elderly residents with underlying health conditions are among the most vulnerable to the pathogen.

That’s nearly quadruple the number of nursing home outbreaks county officials had announced Friday. The county defines an outbreak as three or more cases involving residents or staff at a facility.

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Los Angeles Times’ visual coverage of the coronavirus crisis

The county’s Department of Public Health also was investigating reports of at least one suspected coronavirus infection at seven additional nursing homes as of Monday afternoon. Of the county’s 44 deaths from coronavirus, six have been nursing home residents.

“Our investigation teams work with managers at each site to review implementation of infection control, quarantine and isolation protocols,” a Health Department representative said in an email to The Times.

Outbreaks of the virus are occurring in nursing homes across the country with alarming speed and catastrophic potential. One of the first hot spots in the U.S. was at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., where two-thirds of the residents and 47 workers fell ill and 37 people died.

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Families with loved ones in nursing homes should seriously consider bringing them home if feasible, said Charlene Harrington, a professor emeritus at UC San Francisco’s School of Nursing.

“The risk of exposure is so overwhelming,” said Harrington, who has studied nursing homes since the 1980s. “It’s a terrible concern.”

Conditions are deteriorating at Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center facility in San Francisco, amid a coronavirus outbreak there, city officials said Monday.

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Mayor London Breed said nine employees of the large facility had tested positive as well as two patients. Infection control nurses from the state and infectious disease physicians and epidemiologists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been sent to San Francisco to help, officials said.

“I am saddened to report to the San Francisco community the Laguna Honda hospital has a growing outbreak of coronavirus,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of public health for San Francisco. Because long-term care facilities around the world have been at greater risk in the COVID-19 pandemic, “we expect the situation to unfortunately get worse,” Colfax said.

In San Mateo County, the National Guard was preparing to set up medical cots and equipment at the San Mateo Event Center. The federal treatment site will be able to house 250 patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

“The latest projections estimate that a medical surge could push the hospitals in our county to capacity and we’ll need another location to house patients requiring particular levels of care,” County Manager Mike Callagy said. “We can’t just wait to see if this will happen.”

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On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to remove Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the director of emergency operations.

The board said the move was months in the making and unrelated to Villanueva’s handling of the current crisis. But the sheriff countered that the board was retaliating against him for his decision to close gun shops after the county issued its stay-at-home order.

Times staff writers Priseclla Vega, Alene Tcheckmedyian, Richard Winton and Luke Money contributed to this report.


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