The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Los Angeles County rose to 8,430 on Friday as health officials extended mask-wearing requirements and the local stay-at-home order in a bid to stem the disease’s spread.
The county’s death toll increased by 18, to 241, a 6% increase from the previous day. Of those new victims, 10 were older than 65, seven were between 41 and 65 years old, and one was between 18 and 40, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday marked the fifth day in a row with a single-digit percentage increase in coronavirus cases from the previous day.
Garcetti also announced that the county’s 22nd testing location opened Friday and that there are plans to open a second walk-in testing site in South L.A. By the end of Friday, more than 37,000 L.A. County residents will have been tested for the virus, twice the number of those tested last week.
Countywide, the mortality rate associated with COVID-19 is now 2.9%. Many of the victims, about 1 in 4, lived in an institutional setting, such as a nursing home or shelter, according to the county health department.
Among those who have died was an L.A. city employee who has not yet been identified.
“Unfortunately among the fallen” is a city employee, Garcetti said Friday. “It wasn’t just lip service that these are going to be tough days…. I love sharing the news of the progress we’re making, but it saddens me deeply that we have lost from our own city family.”
Garcetti initially said two city employees had died.
Alex Comisar, the mayor’s spokesman, revised the number on Saturday but did not explain why the mayor originally gave a different number. He also did not say where the city employee who died had been working.
Garcetti said 15 Los Angeles Fire Department employees and 52 Los Angeles Police Department employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and three remain hospitalized.
Los Angeles County health officials warned that the region needs to significantly increase physical distancing efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus and said stay-at-home restrictions could remain into the summer. Even with the dramatic social distancing the county is now seeing, officials forecast that up to 30% of residents could be infected by midsummer without more behavioral changes, such as reducing shopping trips.
The county’s stay-at-home order will now be in effect through at least May 15.
Ferrer said the decision to extend the order wasn’t made “because everything everyone has been doing isn’t working … it’s because it is working. We know it’s effective, but we still have a ways to go.”
“I’m as sad as you are to note that this is not the time to lift, but I also am really hopeful … that because everyone here is doing their part, because people are heeding the directives, we have in fact seen what we can now confirm is in fact the flattening of the curve in a way that is actually saving lives,” she said.
Based on the latest projections, officials believe the healthcare system will be “able to manage” the expected increase in patients “if we maintain the current physical distancing guidelines,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county Department of Health Services.
“Over the next month, we project that we are able — within the existing hospital supply, without any additional surge — to accommodate all of the patients that need care for COVID-19,” she said.
Projections indicate the county may need an additional 400 to 500 intensive care beds, she added, but that potential gap “is well able to be corrected for in the days or weeks to come, and there are already multiple efforts underway to do so.”
“I do know that it’s difficult. I know that it comes with a personal and economic cost,” she said of the health orders. “But it is beneficial in terms of saving lives and making sure the hospital system can take care of those who need it.”
Los Angeles hospitals have partnered with the city to offer child-care programs for essential workers at healthcare facilities, Garcetti announced Friday. Employees at the participating medical centers can access either a $100 stipend per shift to help pay for child care, free referrals to local care facilities or access to child care at nearby recreation centers.
Essential businesses that will remain open through the extended stay-at-home order will also be required to post their COVID-19 safety protocols near their entrances, Garcetti said.
While it’s not clear how long stay-at-home and other such restrictions need to be in place, state officials said the efforts are having a positive effect.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly presented a chart Friday showing that the number of hospitalizations statewide — most recently pegged at 2,897 — is trending on the low end of the state’s models.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said that reemphasizes the importance for residents to do everything they can to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“Not only is the past not equal to the future, but we also have to recognize that we are not just along for the ride as it relates to experiencing the future,” he said. “The future happens inside of us. It’s decisions, not conditions, that will determine the fate and future of this modeling.”
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state surpassed 20,000 as many local officials prepared for a weekend of unprecedented restrictions, including efforts to keep people at home during Easter and Passover.
Beginning Friday, a new order requires Los Angeles residents to wear masks when they go shopping for food or leave their homes for other essential trips. The order also requires many essential workers to wear masks. Ferrer announced the county would roll out such mandates next week.
Beverly Hills went a step further, ordering residents Thursday to wear face coverings whenever they leave their homes, including for walks through their neighborhoods.
Under the order, drivers traveling alone or with members of their households do not need to wear face coverings unless they lower their vehicle’s windows for any reason, including to interact with first responders, food service workers or others who are not members of their household.
Communities are also imposing new rules designed to prevent Easter gatherings where the virus could spread.
All public parks in L.A. County will be closed Easter Sunday. “I know your heart breaks…. This is such a great tradition for the many families we have,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “But we can’t afford to have one cluster of even just a few people together spread this disease to more people and kill them.”
In Orange County, police said they will be out in force to prevent car cruising, which is an Easter tradition in Santa Ana.
Newport Beach announced Thursday that, in light of crowds at one of its most popular surf spots, surfing at the Wedge will be prohibited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. starting Friday.
The adjacent beach area will also close in an attempt to discourage public gatherings at one of the city’s most visited surf spots.
San Bernardino County has urged churches to hold only virtual Easter services.
“People may not leave their homes for driving parades or drive-up services or to pick up nonessential items such as prepackaged Easter eggs or bags filled with candy and toys at a drive-through location,” the county said in a statement this week.
After announcing the initial ban, however, the county pulled back and said drive-in religious services could proceed, but congregants must be kept apart.
Ventura County has banned all public and private gatherings of more than two people outside a single household or living unit, although an updated public health order released Thursday allows for a few exceptions.
That’s not to say that worshipers shouldn’t feel free to practice their faith, Newsom said, but “as you pray, move your feet at least six feet apart from someone else.”
“Practice your faith,” he said, “but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy and does justice to the teaching of Christ, God and others.”
The heightened guidance comes as federal health projections indicate that lifting restrictions such as stay-at-home orders, physical distancing measures and school closures too early could lead to a significant increase in coronavirus infections and deaths nationwide.
California has not seen the death toll of virus hot spots such as New York state, where more than 7,800 people have died. While the virus continues to spread rapidly in some places, including Los Angeles County, there are signs that its rate of growth could be slowing in parts of the Bay Area.
On Friday, however, San Francisco officials announced that the city’s largest homeless shelter had experienced an outbreak, with 68 residents and two staff members testing positive for COVID-19. The shelter is now staffed with medical professionals treating the sick patients. The city has reported nearly 800 positive COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths.
Newsom repeated that the duration of the stay-at-home order depends on whether Californians continue to follow it and wear appropriate face coverings if they go out.
“That will be fundamentally determined on the basis of your individual behavior,” the governor said Friday. “No one can impact this more than you.”
Times staff writer Maura Dolan contributed to this report.