Los Angeles County on Saturday announced 28 additional deaths related to the coronavirus, by far the county’s largest single-day rise in fatalities reported yet as officials said again that they are preparing for several tough weeks.
The county also reported 711 new cases, bringing the total to more than 5,300, with 119 deaths.
“Unfortunately, today’s significant increase in the number of people who have died leaves so many families in our communities facing unimaginable loss and grief,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
Of the people who died, 17 were older than 65, and 21 had underlying health conditions, officials said.
That comes as the number of coronavirus-related deaths in California jumped to 315.
The state recorded 39 deaths Friday, and 30 more by late Saturday afternoon. But California’s COVID-19 toll is still lower than those of some other states, and officials believe California’s strict social distancing rules are beginning to make a difference.
California recorded more than 13,000 cases, and officials believe those numbers will sharply rise as testing continues to expand.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said California will significantly increase COVID-19 testing capabilities, adding that he “owns” testing lapses in the state that have made it difficult to track the deadly virus.
In a Saturday news conference, Newsom announced a task force that he said will work toward a fivefold increase in daily testing in the state by identifying supply shortages and adding testing locations.
“We are now in a position where I can confidently say it’s a new day,” he said.
The announcement comes as California continues to see dramatic increases in people hospitalized with the virus, with 2,300 patients in the state. Another 3,267 people hospitalized are suspected of having COVID-19 but are awaiting testing results.
Overnight, the number of coronavirus patients in California’s intensive care unit beds rose nearly 11% to 1,008 people.
In all, Newsom said 126,700 people have been tested in California, a state of nearly 40 million people. Of those who have been tested, 13,000 are awaiting results.
“The testing space has been a challenging one for us, and I own that,” he said. “And I have a responsibility as your governor to do better and do more testing in the state of California.”
Public health experts have said widespread testing is crucial to the state‘s efforts to accurately assess how many people are infected and where the virus is spreading.
In Long Beach, officials said they had staged a field hospital at the Long Beach Arena and were considering pressing the iconic Queen Mary into service to help deal with a possible surge in COVID-19 patients. Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported 198 cases as of Saturday afternoon, an increase of 27 from the day before.
A particular source of concern statewide is a growing number of outbreaks reported in institutional settings, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, shelters and correctional facilities, where large populations of vulnerable people tend to live in close quarters.
A resident of the California Veterans Home in West Los Angeles was taken to a VA hospital after testing positive for the virus, the state Department of Veterans Affairs said Saturday. No other infections have been reported among residents of the department’s eight homes; but earlier in the week, two staffers at the California Veterans Home in Redding tested positive, officials said.
Twenty-seven people at a skilled nursing facility in the East Bay city of Orinda have tested positive for the coronavirus.
At least 57 residents and staff of a Yucaipa nursing home were infected with the virus, including two people who died, and officials have told the facility to assume all of its patients have COVID-19, San Bernardino County public health officials said earlier this week.
A cluster of infections also has been reported at a San Diego senior living home, where at least four residents and two employees have tested positive and other residents are reportedly showing symptoms.
In Los Angeles County, the Department of Public Health was investigating 321 cases of coronavirus among staff, residents and guests of 67 institutions as of Friday.
And there have been at least 14 cases of COVID-19 in the homeless population across the state, Newsom said Friday during a news conference outside a motel in Sacramento that would be housing vulnerable homeless people.
“There’s heightened concern around the need to do more in our congregate facilities,” Newsom said, “to isolate people … and provide those basic essential services as we work through this crisis.”
Ferrer said Friday that L.A. 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 was 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,” she said, “but it’s our hope that the rate of increase continues to be manageable and that we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system.”
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 older than 65, feel sick or have underlying health conditions.
Orange County reported an additional coronavirus death Saturday and and 75 new cases, for a total of 14 deaths and 786 recorded cases. Of those diagnosed, 112 were hospitalized and 71 were in intensive care units, officials said.
Riverside County reported three new deaths and 27 more cases Saturday, for a total of 18 deaths and 665 cases.
County officials announced the day before that a second sheriff’s deputy died of the virus. Deputy David Werksman, 51, who served in the department for 22 years, died Thursday, officials said. On Thursday morning, Terrell Young, a father of four and a 15-year veteran of the department, also died of complications from COVID-19.
Meanwhile authorities are beginning to crack down on coronavirus rule breakers in hopes of keeping people inside to slow the spread of the virus.
Los Angeles prosecutors on Friday filed criminal charges against two smoke shops, a shoe store and a discount electronics retailer, accusing them of refusing to shut down despite orders imposed to fight the coronavirus.
It marks the first time the city has filed charges for violations of the “Safer at Home” order, which requires businesses deemed nonessential to close their doors.
A gun rights group is now suing the city of Los Angeles, arguing that the order, which shut down stores selling firearms in L.A., is unconstitutional and preempted by state law.
Houses of worship also remain shuttered due to the virus as Christians head into holy week, which precedes Easter.
On Friday, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez will pray a litany for an end to the pandemic on behalf of all U.S. Catholic bishops. The prayer will be livestreamed at 9 a.m.
“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth,” Gomez said in a statement. “These are times almost without precedent in the long history of the Church.”