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15 more coronavirus deaths in L.A. County as cases jump to nearly 6,000

Laguna Woods Village residents protest plan to hold homeless COVID-19 patients nearby
Laguna Woods Village retirement community residents protest outside a nearby Ayres Hotel on Saturday over a plan to hold some homeless COVID-19 patients there.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County on Sunday announced 15 additional deaths related to the coronavirus and 663 new cases, bringing the county’s totals to 132 deaths and 5,950 cases.

This weekend has seen a particularly deadly toll in the county, with 28 deaths reported Saturday, the largest one-day increase yet.

“We have some very difficult days ahead and now is the time for all of us to redouble our physical distancing efforts and look after our neighbors, friends, and families who may be at the highest risk for serious illness from COVID-19,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

Of the fatalities reported Sunday, 10 were patients older than 65, and 11 had underlying health conditions, officials said. One person was younger than 40. Two of the deaths already had been reported by the city of Pasadena, which has its own health department.

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There have now been nearly 1,400 coronavirus infections recorded in L.A. County over the last 48 hours as the number of people tested has risen to 31,000. Officials in Long Beach, which also has its own health department, reported 15 new cases Sunday, for a total of 213.

Riverside County announced Sunday that another person had died of the coronavirus and 134 more had tested positive, bringing the county’s death toll to 19 and its total number of cases to 799.

They include 30 patients of the Extended Care Hospital of Riverside, a skilled nursing facility. Some staff members also had tested positive, and officials were awaiting results from other patients and workers at the 90-plus-bed facility, public health officials said Sunday.

The facility was closed to new admissions, sick patients were isolated, and staff members were not permitted to work elsewhere.

“This is a very serious situation and shows why we must all take serious steps to change our behavior, because these steps are intended to protect our most vulnerable,” Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel said in a statement.

Concerned about the rise of coronavirus infections, the county has taken the unprecedented step of ordering all residents to cover their faces when leaving home, marking an escalation by county officials in their attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite previous pleas from county officials for residents to practice social distancing, cover their faces and stay home, “more and more” residents are getting infected with the virus, and “not everyone’s getting the message,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County health officer, in issuing the order Saturday.

“We change from saying that you should to saying that you must,” Kaiser said in a prepared statement published by the county.

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Los Angeles and counties in the Bay Area have urged residents to cover their mouths and noses, and San Diego County on Saturday ordered all essential workers to do the same, part of a broader effort among local governments and the state to flatten the curve of the pandemic before hospitals become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

But Riverside County’s new mandate is far more strict, requiring anyone who leaves the house to cover up.

The order also bans all gatherings of people except for family members residing in the same home, according to the county’s news release. The sharply worded release said police officers had the power to enforce the orders “as they deem necessary.”

“We have already lost two of our deputies to this virus. I am asking all of you to honor them by staying at home,” said Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco.

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U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Sunday also urged Americans to follow social distancing guidelines and to wear face coverings in public to help slow the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week called on Americans to wear masks when venturing out, but President Trump said Friday, “I don’t see it for myself.”

“The president is making a choice that is appropriate for him,” said the surgeon general on “Fox News Sunday.” Adams has released a video showing how to make a simple homemade face covering with fabric and rubber bands. Wearing a mask, he cautioned, is not a substitute for physical distancing.

Adams also deflected questions about the need for a nationwide stay-at-home order. Trump has said he prefers to leave the decision to governors, nine of whom have not issued such a directive in their states.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday that states that did not take such measures harmed the overall effort to stem the outbreak.

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“It isn’t that they’re putting the rest of the country at risk as much as they’re putting themselves at risk,” he said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“Every time I get to that podium in the White House briefing room, I plead with people to take a look at those very simple guidelines of physical separation.”

Fauci said last week he did not understand why there was not a nationwide stay-at-home order in place.

Adams said in the Fox interview that the federal government’s guidelines, which are voluntary, were “essentially” a national order.

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“Over 90% of the country is staying home,” he said.

Both officials warned of difficult times ahead.

Adams said the coming week was going to be “the hardest and saddest of most Americans’ lives,” likening the projected toll of COVID-19 to “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment.”

More than 335,000 cases of the coronavirus have been reported nationwide, and the death toll is nearing 10,000.

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There are preliminary signs that stay-at-home directives and social distancing have been effective, Fauci said, but “we’re still not at that apex.”

“Within a week, eight, nine days or so, we’re hopefully going to see that turning around,” he said.

Coronavirus-related deaths across California have soared past 300, reaching 344 by Sunday afternoon.

Orange County reported 49 additional coronavirus cases Sunday, for a total of 834 cases, including 14 deaths. Of those diagnosed, 137 were hospitalized and 56 were in intensive care units, officials said.

The cases include two Orange County sheriff’s deputies who tested positive for the virus last week, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun said Sunday. One works at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange and the other at the Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana, where at least one inmate also has tested positive. Both deputies were resting at home, Braun said.

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In a move aimed at reducing the jail population to limit the spread of the coronavirus, California judicial leaders are set to meet remotely Monday, when they’re expected to adopt a statewide emergency order setting bail at zero for misdemeanor and lower-level felony offenses.

The Judicial Council, the policymaking body for California’s court system, also is expected to vote to suspend evictions and foreclosures and to allow for the expansion of court hearings held by video or telephone.

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye heads the council, which is primarily made up of judges. Gov. Gavin Newsom has given her and the council extraordinary temporary powers to suspend laws to deal with the health crisis.

California has recorded more than 14,000 cases overall, and officials believe that number will sharply rise as testing continues to expand.

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In a Saturday news conference, Newsom said California would significantly increase coronavirus testing capabilities, adding that he was responsible for testing lapses in the state that had made it difficult to track the virus.

Newsom announced a task force that he said would 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 2,398 patients in the state. An additional 3,187 people hospitalized are suspected of having COVID-19 but are awaiting test results.

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From Friday to Saturday, the number of coronavirus patients in California’s ICU beds rose nearly 11% to 1,008 people. By Sunday, that number had inched up to 1,040.

In all, state officials said Sunday that 131,500 people had been tested in California, a state of about 40 million people. Of those who have been tested, 15,000 are awaiting results.

“The testing space has been a challenging one for us, and I own that,” Newsom said Saturday. “And I have a responsibility as your governor to do better and do more testing in the state.”

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.

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Newsom said he was confident the newly announced task force, made up of private and public leaders, would deal with testing challenges in the state.

He said the state was partnering with universities, hospitals, labs and testing companies to increase testing locations across the state, reduce backlogs and ensure there were more accurate and timely data on the number of COVID-19 cases.

The task force will be led by Paul Markovich, president and chief executive of Blue Shield of California, and Dr. Charity Dean, assistant director of the California Department of Public Health.

State officials have been working to add more hospital and ICU beds to handle the expected surge in coronavirus patients. The state’s modeling suggests California will need 50,000 new hospital beds by mid-May. To meet that demand, the state is asking for recently retired medical providers, those with licenses from other states and medical school students to join the newly created California Health Corps.

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Newsom said that a “staggering number of individuals” — some 79,000 people — had signed up through the state’s Health Corps website.

Meanwhile, a crackdown on coronavirus-order scofflaws has escalated in recent days, with nonessential businesses that refuse to shut down, as well as people who defy orders to stay out of the water, finding themselves in the crosshairs.

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. It marked the first time the city had filed charges for violations of the “Safer at Home” order, which requires businesses deemed nonessential to close their doors to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

City Atty. Mike Feuer on Friday said the four stores were deemed nonessential businesses under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s executive order.

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Garcetti said the stores were putting lives at risk. At one store, police officers were told, “ ‘Forget you’ — probably not in as nice words — ‘We’re not going to do it,’ ” the mayor said.

That comes as workers at some businesses deemed essential are calling for their employers to grant them more protections against the virus.

Cooks and cashiers protested from their cars outside a McDonald’s on Crenshaw Boulevard on Sunday after a co-worker tested positive for the virus, they said, prompting the store to close for a day. The employees were then asked to come back the following day, they said.

The workers said they were going on strike until the company agreed to provide a two-week paid quarantine and to cover healthcare costs of any worker or immediate family member who becomes ill with COVID-19.

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The owner-operator of the McDonald’s franchise, Nicole Enearu, said Sunday in a statement that the restaurant was closed and sanitized as soon as managers were notified that an employee had tested positive, and that all other staff who had been in close contact with the employee had been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We are committed to paying both the infected employee and the other employees who need to quarantine,” she said.

But as of Sunday evening, none of the employees who were involved in the protest had received calls from their managers advising them to quarantine or saying they would be paid for such time off, the workers said.

“We have no way of determining how McDonald’s is making the decision on who to send home and who’s allowed to work,” Fight for $15 and a Union, which helped organize the protest, said in a statement. “And we’re not comfortable taking the company’s word for it.”

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In Orange County, a plan to house homeless people with the coronavirus in a hotel near a gated retirement community has sparked outrage among some of its neighbors.

Orange County officials recently entered into an agreement to use two boutique Ayres hotels as temporary housing for those without shelter amid the pandemic. One hotel is just outside Laguna Woods Village, a community with thousands of residents older than 55.

County officials say they have few options as they try to quickly move people indoors amid fears that an outbreak among the homeless population could further strain health systems. They say the facility will be locked down, with patients unable to have visitors or leave freely.

Residents of the retirement community, where the average age is about 78, say they fear having homeless patients or the staff who care for the sick nearby because residents are at high risk of death from the virus.

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On Saturday afternoon, dozens of residents gathered outside the hotel, at times shouting, “Don’t kill us,” while others circled nearby in their cars, honking their horns.

Laguna Woods city officials have said they are deeply concerned by the county’s decision and are exploring legal action.

Wigglesworth and Elmahrek reported from Los Angeles, Gutierrez reported from Sacramento, King reported from Washington and Dolan reported from San Francisco. Times staff writer Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.


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