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Death toll from coronavirus passes 300 in California on L.A. County’s worst day yet

A woman in a mask and reflective vest holding a sign
Cassidy Roosen of Beach Cities Health District holds a sign reading “We’re all in this together” at a drive-through coronavirus testing site Saturday in Redondo Beach.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Coronavirus-related deaths across California have soared past 300, with Los Angeles County reporting its largest single-day rise in fatalities, as officials worked to improve testing and keep people inside to slow the spread of the virus.

Los Angeles County on Saturday announced 28 additional deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as officials warned again that they are preparing for several tough weeks ahead. It 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.

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Overall, California recorded 39 deaths Friday and 30 more by late Saturday afternoon. But the COVID-19 toll is still lower than those of some other states, and officials believe California’s stringent social distancing rules are beginning to make a difference.

How can the new coronavirus affect people so differently — killing some while leaving others blissfully unaware that they have been infected at all?

Orange County reported an additional coronavirus death Saturday 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.

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California has recorded more than 13,000 cases overall, and officials believe those numbers will sharply rise as testing continues to expand.

In a Saturday news conference, 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.

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.

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“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. An additional 3,267 people hospitalized are suspected of having COVID-19 but are awaiting test results.

From Friday night to Saturday monring, the number of coronavirus patients in California’s ICU beds rose nearly 11% to 1,008 people.

In all, Newsom said 126,700 people have been tested in California, a state of about 40 million people. Of those who have been tested, 13,000 are awaiting results.

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“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.”

Coronavirus cases are slowly creeping into vast, rural Northern California. Only a handful of counties had no cases.

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.

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

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He said the state is partnering with universities, hospitals, labs and testing companies to increase testing locations across the state, reduce backlogs and ensure there is 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.

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

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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 imposed to fight the coronavirus. It marked 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 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.

Feuer’s office identified the businesses charged as Business Discount Electronics at 556 S. Broadway; Hot Box Smoke Shop at 9115 S. Western Ave.; DTLA Smoke Shop at 223½ W. 6th St.; and Brother Shoes and 818 W. Slauson Ave., Unit B. Calls to the businesses went unanswered Friday.

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

Residents of the Laguna Woods Village retirement community, where thousands of people older than 55 reside, say they fear having homeless patients or the staff that cares for them nearby because their age puts them at high risk of death from the virus.


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