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As California faces tough weeks ahead, the public will play a key role in slowing outbreak

Pottery Barn store in Beverly Hills is boarded up during pandemic
The Pottery Barn store in Beverly Hills is boarded up during the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly to avoid vandalism during the crisis.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Capping a week of dramatic rises in novel coronavirus cases and deaths, health officials said Friday that California should brace for at least several more challenging weeks as the virus spreads and officials fight to keep unprecedented social distancing restrictions going.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said that the county should expect to see 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day in the coming weeks and that the key to keeping the rate of spread manageable is for the public to stay largely at home.

“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.

These are some of the unusual new scenes across the Southland during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Whether the increase remains manageable, Ferrer said, depends on how well 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.

Statewide, the number of coronavirus cases swelled to more than 12,000 on Friday, with the death toll topping 275. About 2,200 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.

The governor emphasized that the confirmed cases represent just a fraction of the real problem.

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“That’s an undercount,” Newsom said during his media briefing 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.”

Across the state, there were alarming new signs of the virus’ spread as well as a few encouraging notes.

Orange County reported 57 new coronavirus infections Friday, raising its number of known cases to 711 — more than double what it was a week earlier.

The county’s death toll remained unchanged at 13 — the first time in four days that more COVID-19-related fatalities haven’t been reported in the region.

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In Riverside County, a second sheriff’s deputy died of the virus.

David Werksman, 51, died Thursday night, hours after fellow Riverside County Deputy Terrell Young, 52, had succumbed to the coronavirus.

Twenty-seven people at a skilled nursing facility in the East Bay city of Orinda have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of those, 24 are residents and three are staff members. The county has tested all the residents and is testing all staff. Most of the residents are older than 65 and about half are older than 80. Fourteen people at the facility tested negative, and results for others are still pending.

“We are very very concerned,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County’s health officer. “This is a virus without a vaccine. This is a virus without a medical treatment.”

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Los Angeles County confirmed 11 new coronavirus-related deaths Friday, bringing its toll to 91, and 521 new cases overall, bringing that total to more than 4,500. The number of new cases increased by more than 1,000 in 48 hours. About 541 residents are hospitalized for COVID-19, officials said.

The county is seeing a rapid increase in coronavirus cases, with hundreds of new cases reported over a two-day period, as testing ramps up and more infections are identified.

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 last two weeks, that rate has slowed to a doubling of cases every six days, which she called “good news.”

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

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“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, more than double the number reported a week before, when just 11,000 people had been tested.

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.

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On Friday, three new drive-up coronavirus testing locations opened in L.A. County, at the Pomona Fairplex, the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach and the Antelope Valley Mall in Palmdale. Testing also is available at High Desert Medical Group in Lancaster and Glendale Memorial Hospital, the county said.

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

The increase in L.A. County cases may also be the result of a surge 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 of 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, seven cases were 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 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the homeless population across the state, Newsom said Friday.

The state hopes to lease as many as 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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