Los Angeles County health officials confirmed 22 more coronavirus-linked deaths Tuesday, bringing the county’s total to 169, as the number of people testing positive for the illness nears 7,000.
County Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer said that for the first time, the county is tallying the race and ethnicity of those who have died.
So far, 93 individuals have been counted. The count was broken down as 19% Asian, 17% African American, 28% Latinx, 27% white and 9% who were identified as belonging to another race or ethnicity.
“When we look at these numbers by the total population of each group, African Americans have a slightly higher rate of death than other races,” Ferrer said.
There are 869 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 43% are older than 65 and 18% are younger than 45. There are 132 people in intensive care.
Ferrer said 121 institutional settings — including nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and skilled-nursing facilities — are under investigation for potential outbreaks after reporting at least one case of the virus. The county’s death toll includes 37 residents of such facilities.
The case count includes individuals who have recovered. But at this point, the county does not have a method to identify them.
“We don’t have a report-back mechanism,” Ferrer said.
Asked whether there are plans for the county’s testing program to accommodate vulnerable individuals who are immunocompromised or without access to a vehicle, officials said the immediate strategy was to increase the number of testing locations to provide broader accessibility.
L.A. County’s Dr. Christina Ghaly added that the Department of Health Services offers such transportation avenues and that patients eligible for the California Medical Assistance Program should also have access to transportation assistance through their medical plans.
Officials reiterated Monday’s plea for the public to stay home and to try to avoid shopping.
As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in California continues to climb, officials across the state are pushing the public to boost social distancing efforts — a move seen as the best shot at trying to control the virus’ spread.
On Tuesday evening, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an order requiring all residents to wear a face covering when visiting essential businesses in hopes that it will protect workers.
Effective Friday at midnight, residents must wear a mask, bandanna or other type of covering over their noses and mouths when in grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, taxis, ride-hail vehicles and any other essential businesses.
“Cover up, save a life — it’s that simple,” Garcetti said.
Additionally, workers at essential businesses must wear face coverings, which business owners must either provide or reimburse workers for buying.
The order does not require that customers’ or workers’ face coverings be medical grade or N95 masks.
“All essential, non-medical workers required to wear these face coverings must frequently (at least once a day) wash any reusable face coverings, for the health and safety of themselves and others,” the order reads. “Single-use face coverings must be properly discarded into trash receptacles.”
The mayor’s decision came the same day the Los Angeles City Council discussed passing a similar measure.
With more than 17,000 confirmed cases across the state and more than 430 deaths, chances of exposure are increasing rapidly. Officials, who expect the peak of the outbreak will not be reached until mid-May, continue to voice concerns about the possibility of hospitals being overwhelmed if people do not practice social distancing.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said that such practices may be working to lower the peak, despite the continued rise in COVID-19 cases. The number of hospitalizations in the state is at 2,611, a 4.1% increase from Monday, and 1,108 individuals are in intensive care, a 2.1% increase from Monday, the governor said.
While the Bay Area suffered one of the nation’s earliest outbreaks of coronavirus infections, cases from Southern California and the Central Valley are outpacing it, threatening a much larger population, according to a Times analysis of county health data.
Sacramento County reported 63 more cases and three more deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 21.
The Alameda County Public Health Department on Monday reported 18 new cases of the virus. Berkeley, which has an independent public health office, reported that four more residents had tested positive, pushing the number of cases countywide to 588.
In Santa Clara County, public health officials reported that 1,224 people have tested positive for the virus.
Despite the uptick, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Stanislaus and Tulare counties are now seeing faster rates of newly detected coronavirus cases than any of the counties in the Bay Area, The Times analysis found.
In Los Angeles County, health officials urged residents this week to go as far as avoiding shopping in order to stay inside.
“If you have enough supplies in your home, this would be the week to skip shopping altogether,” Ferrer said. “We cannot underestimate COVID-19, a virus that knows no boundaries, infects people of all ages and can cause significant illness and death, particularly among people who are elderly or who have underlying serious health conditions.”
Officials have desperately tried to slow the spread of the virus through unprecedented social distancing rules that closed most parks and beaches as well as nonessential businesses. But as the number of infected individuals continues to rise, officials’ warnings to stay home have persisted.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with officials in counties across the state, have recently begun suggesting people wear masks or other face coverings while shopping or being out in public.
Riverside County’s public health officer took the recommendation a step further over the weekend when he ordered all residents to cover their faces when leaving home.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser said despite previous pleas from county officials for residents to socially distance, cover their faces and stay home, “more and more” residents were getting infected with the virus, and “not everyone’s getting the message.”
“We change from saying that you should to saying that you must,” Kaiser said in a prepared statement published by the county.
The move aims to prevent asymptomatic people from spreading the virus unwittingly. Officials have recommended that residents wear bandannas or scarves to cover their mouth and nose rather than N95 and surgical masks, which are already in short supply for healthcare workers.
Orange County, which also continues to see a rise in confirmed coronavirus infections, could also soon be instituting more stringent requirements for face coverings.
Supervisor Andrew Do said he would ask his board colleagues Tuesday to support requiring essential workers to cover their faces while at work. Do’s announcement came as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus hit 882 — up more than 400 from a week ago.
“Last week, San Diego County changed its policy to start requiring face coverings for all employees who may have contact with the public in any grocery store, pharmacy/drug store, convenience store, gas station, restaurant, or other business establishment that serves food,” he said in a statement Monday. “I will make the same recommendation ... to protect our essential workers and each other.”
Meanwhile, the effort to test as many residents as possible continues in Los Angeles County.
Garcetti announced Monday evening that any Los Angeles County resident with symptoms who wants to be tested for the coronavirus can now apply online at the city’s coronavirus website, coronavirus.lacity.org.
Testing was previously limited to vulnerable populations, including those 65 and older, and those with compromised immune systems.
“Now that doesn’t mean we’ll have a test for everybody tomorrow,” he said, “but it means that our capacity is now greater” than it was.
Times staff writers Adam Elmahrek and Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.