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California

L.A. County records 11 new deaths: next few weeks will be ‘critically important’

Dr. Mark V. Morocco oversees the coronavirus testing at UCLA Medical Center.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The rate of increase of new coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County has slowed compared to last week, signaling that stay at home orders have been working, although new cases and deaths are still increasing overall, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday.

“A week ago the rate of increase was about 50% more than it is right now,” Garcetti said.

In the last two days, more than 1,000 new cases have been reported in Los Angeles County. The county announced that 521 of those came Friday, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases to more than 4,600. With 11 new coronavirus-related deaths Friday, the death toll in the county is now 91.

Long Beach, which has its own health department, announced an additional two deaths and 18 more cases.

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Garcetti warned that deaths and new cases are still doubling every few days.

“It is not time to relax, because the more we can push that curve down, the more chance we have seeing those numbers not increase by as much. That means dozens of people who will not die.”

Statewide, the number of coronavirus cases swelled to more than 11,900 on Friday — with the death toll topping 260. About 2,188 people are hospitalized, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, with 901 of them in intensive care units, a 10.4% increase in ICU hospitalizations from the day before.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, said Friday that L.A. County should expect to see 1,000 new coronavirus cases per day in the coming weeks and that the key to keeping the rate of spread manageable is social distancing.

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“The next few weeks are going to be critically important, because we are going to see more cases of people who are positive with COVID-19, but it’s our hope that the rate of increase continues to be manageable and that we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system,” she said.

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Whether the increase remains manageable, she said, depends on how closely residents adhere to guidelines that they wash their hands frequently, stay home as much as possible, remain six feet away from others when leaving the house and avoid going out entirely if they are over the age of 65, feel sick or have underlying health conditions.

Ferrer said that when L.A. County initially increased lab testing a couple of weeks ago, its coronavirus case count was tripling every three to four days. For the past two weeks, that rate has slowed to a doubling of cases every six days, which she called “good news.”

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But as lab testing continues to increase, she said, people need to be prepared to see an even bigger uptick in cases.

“If we assume that we’re getting to where we’re striving to be, which is that we’re able to test 10,000 people a day, and about 10% of the people we test continue to be positive, you can see why we need to prepare ourselves for having 1,000 new cases of people with COVID-19 every day,” she said.

Almost 26,000 people had been tested in L.A. County as of Friday, well over double the number reported a week before.

Garcetti said seven additional testing sites have opened in Los Angeles, adding the capacity to conduct 3,500 tests daily in the coming week. With the increased testing capacity, Garcetti said “we’re going to open the aperture a little bit...so more people can get tested.”

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Testing is still by appointment only and limited to residents who are showing symptoms and are at least 65 years old or have underlying health conditions.

The testing numbers still lag behind those of New York City, where more than 49,000 positive cases had been identified as of Friday morning.

The increase in L.A. County cases may also be due to a spike in cases reported in institutional settings, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, shelters, treatment centers, jails and prisons. These facilities tend to house a large number of vulnerable people who are older or have underlying health conditions, and residents often live in close quarters, making it difficult to curb the virus’ spread.

The Department of Public Health was investigating 321 cases among staff, residents and guests of 67 institutions as of Friday. Of those, 166 were among residents, and 155 among staff members, Ferrer said. On Monday, cases were being investigated at just 18 facilities. Of those who have died from COVID-19, 11 have lived in either a skilled nursing or assisted-living facility, Ferrer said.

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A total of 25 cases have been reported across L.A. County’s correctional system — 18 staffers and seven detainees.

In addition, there were seven cases reported among L.A.'s homeless community; down two from the day before because those cases were determined to be among people who were not homeless, Ferrer said.

There have been 14 cases of COVID-19 in the homeless population across the state, Newsom said Friday.

The cases came from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Contra Costa, Ventura and Fresno counties. The count includes one homeless man who died last month in Santa Clara County. Newsom made clear that there are likely more cases.

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“By the way, that’s an undercount,” Newsom said during his press conference outside a motel in Sacramento that would be housing vulnerable homeless individuals. “We know that’s just what’s been reported to us, but there’s heightened concern around the need to do more in our congregate facilities to isolate people into shelters like this and provide those basic essential services as we work through this crisis.”

The state hopes to lease up 15,000 rooms for homeless people, and so far counties have gotten 869 homeless individuals who are vulnerable to the virus into shelters. So far, 6,867 hotel and motel rooms have been committed to this effort.

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Garcetti announced that 780 hotel and motel rooms became available Friday for vulnerable homeless individuals, including seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

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In addition, three new recreation centers opened as homeless shelters, adding 140 beds for a total of 700 across the city.

The YMCA has also made nine of its facilities available for homeless people to be able to use shower stalls and bathrooms, and dozens of portable bathrooms have been placed throughout the city and skid row, Garcetti said.

“We’ve seen good progress, we’ve seen people staying home, but don’t let up,” Garcetti said. “This will be the week we’ll continue to see hundreds of people each day become positive.”

Counties across the state saw increases in the number of coronavirus cases as well, though not as steep as Los Angeles County’s. Contra Costa County had 31 new cases and two more deaths Friday. Santa Clara County had 75 more cases and two more deaths.

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In Riverside County, there were 145 new cases and one death Friday. In the last two days, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has announced two deputies have died from the virus: deputy Terrell Young and Deputy David Werksman. Sheriff Chad Bianco said 25 employees and 11 inmates have tested positive in all, and more tests of employees and inmates are pending.


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