L.A. County reaches ‘very sad milestone’ as coronavirus deaths rise

Barbara Ferrer
L.A. County public health Director Barbara Ferrer, pictured last month, says more than 570 residents have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County on Saturday ended a grim week in the battle against the coronavirus, announcing 81 new deaths and setting another record for single-day fatalities.

Deaths have increased significantly in the last week in Los Angeles County, even as there are growing signs that the number of new coronavirus cases across California is beginning to level off and decline in some places. The county already accounts for a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths in the state.

In the last week, deaths among L.A. County residents have roughly doubled and now stand at more than 570, said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.


Here’s an inside look with doctors and nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle.

April 15, 2020

“Today marks a very sad milestone for our county,” Ferrer said in a statement Saturday. “We are reporting the highest number of COVID-19 deaths for any one day since the beginning of the pandemic, and our deepest condolences go out to each and every person grieving the loss of their loved ones.”

Los Angeles has recorded far fewer death than New York, but officials said the recent rise in fatalities is troubling.

Ferrer said Friday that there is a natural lag time when it comes to deaths.

“You tend to see the deaths continue to rise after your cases may have leveled off,” she said.

Of the people who most recently died, 56 were older than 65, 18 were 41 to 65, and one person was 18 to 40, Ferrer said. Sixty-three of the people had underlying health conditions.

The county also announced 642 additional coronavirus cases Saturday. Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported an additional death and 30 new cases Saturday, for a total of 12,051 cases and 577 deaths in L.A. County.


“We are especially concerned about the overwhelming number of residents residing in our nursing homes who have passed away,” Ferrer said, noting that she’s asked for state and federal support to help ensure that nursing homes are safe.

“This includes asking for supplementary staffing and PPE [personal protective equipment], increased ability to test residents and employees, and improvements in infection control capacity at nursing homes,” she said.

Nursing homes have become a tragic focal point of the coronavirus pandemic, with their elderly residents, many of whom have underlying health conditions, accounting for a large percentage of COVID-19 deaths across the country.

The rise in cases in L.A. County comes as officials continue to ramp up efforts to improve access to testing. More than 76,000 residents had been tested and had received their results as of Saturday, with about 14% testing positive, Ferrer said.

New testing sites will open Monday in Bell, at Beverly Community Hospital in Montebello, and at PIH Health Good Samaritan Hospital in MacArthur Park, county Supervisor Hilda Solis said.

A drive-up testing site at PIH Health Whittier Hospital also will open Monday, county officials announced Saturday. Any resident with symptoms of COVID-19 can make an appointment, they said.

People will stay in their cars for tests, which they will administer themselves by swabbing their own throats using instructions provided onsite, officials said. Results will be provided within two to three days, the county said.

“Expanding our testing capacity and ensuring residents have easy access to testing is helping us understand the spread of this virus and will be critical to easing restrictions when that time comes,” county Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement.

For now, the county’s stay-at-home order remains in effect, and officials say it’s critical for residents to continue to comply in order to slow the virus’ spread. In the city of Los Angeles and many others, residents are also required to wear masks when leaving their homes to visit grocery stores, pharmacies and other establishments to take advantage of essential services.

Several cities in Orange County have passed similar rules requiring face coverings.

In Brea, a drive-through face mask giveaway led to so much traffic congestion on Saturday that police shut down turn lanes and advised people to take alternate routes.

The giveaway took place at AST Sportswear on Imperial Highway near Kraemer Boulevard, the Brea Police Department said on Twitter. The company was reportedly giving away 20,000 masks.

Orange County recorded four additional deaths and 63 new cases on Saturday, for a total of 1,556 cases, including 32 deaths. A total of 155 people were hospitalized, with 59 of them in ICUs. As of Saturday, 17,616 people had been tested, with 1,245 of them tested between Friday and Saturday alone, the county reported.

In Riverside County, people are required to wear face coverings when leaving their homes for any reason. The county reported five more deaths and 145 more cases of the coronavirus on Saturday for a total of 72 deaths and 2,602 cases. Of those, 215 people were hospitalized, with 69 of them in ICUs. A total of 32,779 residents had been tested, as of Saturday.

Officials there have also banned public and private gatherings of any size and prohibited short-term lodging facilities from operating until June 19.

County officials issued a reminder Friday for people to avoid recreational travel to mountain communities. In particular, they warned that sheriff’s deputies would be keeping a close eye on the town of Idyllwild over the weekend after county Supervisor Chuck Washington’s office received complaints from residents who witnessed visitors the weekend before.

Statewide, another 87 people died in the 24-hour period ending Friday night, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday. As of Saturday night, more than 1,100 had died in California.

“For those who think we are out of the woods … I caution you on the basis of that 87 number,” Newsom said. “That represents one of the highest number of deaths the state has experienced since the beginning of this process.”

As of Friday night, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in California had grown to 3,221, a 1.3% rise from the day before. A total of 1,173 of those patients were in intensive care units, a decline of .1% from the day before, Newsom said.

Officials consider those statistics to be key indicators of whether the state’s social distancing rules are making a difference and how soon they can be relaxed.

“I reference hospitalization and ICU numbers as very, very important numbers in terms of our determination of when we can start loosening up the stay-at-home orders,” Newsom said. “We’ve certainly flattened the curve.

“The question is when are we going to see those numbers start to decline on a consistent basis as opposed to an episodic basis as we have seen over the last week or so.”

Newsom had some advice Saturday for people upset over the orders, some of whom have started holding public protests, including one Friday in Huntington Beach.

“I just want to encourage people that when you practice your free speech, which I don’t [just] embrace, I celebrate, just do so safely,” he said. “This virus knows no political ideology. It doesn’t know if you are Republican or Democrat, supporting the president, opposing the president, so practice physical distancing.”

The governor said he will not be swayed by public protests in deciding when to reopen the state.

“We are going to do the right thing, not judge by politics, not judge by protests, but by science,” he said.

At least one county already was reversing some closures forced by the pandemic.

Ventura County reopened county parks at 5 p.m. Friday. Playgrounds, tennis courts, community centers, campgrounds and golf courses remained closed.

County officials said in a news release that they were able to reopen the public spaces because residents “have been very cooperative in complying” with public health orders that they stay at home.

“This is one step on the road to reopening,” Mike Powers, the county’s chief executive, said in a statement.
Ventura County had reported 396 cases and 13 deaths as of Friday afternoon.