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Ventura County makes dire prediction as coronavirus cases, deaths increase

A woman has the sidewalk all to herself while walking through downtown Ventura on Monday. Foot traffic is very light amid coronavirus restrictions.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Amid an increase in testing and the dire prediction of a massive death toll in Ventura County if measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus aren’t heeded, officials announced an increase in both the number of cases and victims.

Nearly 3,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the county, and 149 are confirmed to have contracted the illness. Twenty-three new cases were reported late Tuesday.

Among those who have tested positive, 27 have recovered while 117 remain under active quarantine.

The virus has also claimed another life, health officials said, bringing the death total in the county to five. All of the victims were in their 70s or 80s and had preexisting health problems, county spokeswoman Ashley Bautista said. The first death was reported March 22.

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At a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, officials spoke at length about ways to curb the impact of the virus. County parks were closed, and fees for patients who visit a doctor for COVID-19-related symptoms have been waived. The county also secured four motels to house vulnerable members of the homeless population.

The message from Dr. Robert Levin, the county’s public health officer, was grim: Ventura County could see as many as 1,000 people die from COVID-19 if efforts to flatten the curve are relaxed too early.

“The actions we’re taking we hope will curtail that and diminish that significantly,” said Levin, who cautioned that what health officials are up against with the novel coronavirus will not be like what they saw with influenza, which killed 49 people in the county two years ago.

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Ventura County received three semitrucks full of personal protection equipment, but hospitals still have a shortage of protective gear, Levin said, noting that healthcare facilities need to create spaces to hold people after they recover from the virus to avoid spreading it further.

Amid concerns that residents were not taking social distancing efforts seriously, the city of Ventura closed all beaches, parks and the iconic pier Tuesday.

“There’s still a lot of clustering in the parks,” County Executive Officer Michael Powers said. “We have to do everything we can. These next four to five weeks are critical.”

And while it’s hard to document whether the safer-at-home measures are making a difference, a recent evaluation by a Norwegian company that tracks cellphone usage gave Ventura County an A grade for its social distancing and quarantine efforts.

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Kelly Long, chair of the Board of Supervisors, contrasted the spreading virus to a wildfire. Although you can see where a blaze is headed, the virus feels unpredictable, she said.

Levin used that comparison in his message to the county: The virus must be completely wiped out, and efforts to stop its spread can’t be reduced until then.

“That is going to be a trial for the residents of our county because we’re going to get on the other side of this curve, and we’re not immediately going to stop the steps we’ve taken,” he said. “We need to make sure that this is smothered.”


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