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L.A. County reports more than 1,400 additional coronavirus cases amid huge test backlog

‘Covid-19 is now the leading cause of death in the United States,’ says L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti

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Los Angeles County officials on Monday announced more than 1,400 additional cases of novel coronavirus, a huge number resulting from one laboratory’s backlog of nearly 1,200 positive test results that were conducted between April 7 and 14.

“This is a tremendous lag in data reporting,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said in announcing the additional cases, which pushed the county’s total above 13,800.

Officials also announced an additional 17 deaths linked to the coronavirus after the county recorded more than 100 deaths over the weekend.

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On Saturday, Ferrer announced 81 new COVID-19 deaths, the highest number reported in a single day in L.A. County since the pandemic began. It was the fourth time in five days that the fatality count had reached a record high.

“In this last week, we have doubled the number of deaths that occurred among L.A. County residents,” Ferrer said.

Though the numbers look bleak, Ferrer said there were signs that social distancing practices were having a positive effect, but the county hasn’t signaled it’s ready to lift its stay-at-home order.

“As we plan ahead for recovery, we ask that all remain steadfast in complying with the directives laid out in our “safer at home” order: stay home as much as possible, practice physical distancing at all times, wear face coverings when out in public and keep hands clean,” Ferrer said. “We know that these are extraordinarily difficult times and appreciate the efforts made by everyone to bring wellness back to our community. Together we are saving lives, and together we will get through this.”

The number of confirmed cases continued to increase throughout California. Riverside County saw its caseload climb to 2,847 and its death roll rise to 85. In Santa Clara County, officials said Monday the number of confirmed cases had risen above 1,900, and the death toll was 83.

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Roughly 80,500 of L.A. County’s 10 million residents have been tested for the coronavirus — or less than 1%. Of those tested, 13% were positive. More than 3,400 people, or 25% of all positive cases, have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. More than 600 people have died of COVID-19.

L.A. County does not have a record of individuals who have recovered. That count is included in the total number of cases.

Of those who have died, the county has released information about race and ethnicity for 544 people. Roughly 36% of those deaths were among Latinx residents, 28% were white, 17% were Asian, 16% were African American and 3% were identified with other races.

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Officials also said Monday that a report from USC and the county’s Department of Public Health revealed that roughly 4.1% of the county’s population has antibodies to the coronavirus. That figure is 28 to 55 times higher than the number of confirmed cases reported in early April, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of the county’s 10 million residents have been infected by the virus.

Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said Monday that her office was aware of the report, which highlighted the “concern about asymptomatic spread” because it is difficult to trace.

“This has been the fundamental question to begin with,” she said, emphasizing the importance of treating the disease as “highly contagious.”

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So far, 53 of California’s 58 counties have reported COVID-19 cases. The number of deaths in the state surpassed 1,220 on Monday, while confirmed cases exceeded 33,600.

Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out a plan last week to lift the state’s shelter-in-place orders, a decision that officials have implemented on a county-by-county basis. More details of that six-point framework will be released Wednesday, Newsom said Monday during his daily briefing.

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He stressed the need for physical distancing practices to remain in effect. Progress is being made in flattening the curve, but Newsom said COVID-19 cases and deaths would continue to rise.

“It’s not a light switch — more like a dimmer,” he said of the forthcoming plan to ease restrictions.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti outlined the economic pain the coronavirus has brought to the city, even as he cautioned against relaxing restrictions on movement and business too soon.

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Garcetti released his proposed $10.5-billion budget Monday that will result in furloughs for 16,000 city employees. With sales and hotel tax revenues plummeting due to the business paralysis caused by the coronavirus, citywide revenues are projected to rise just 1.8%, compared with the 4.5% average yearly growth seen by the city over the last six years.

“This is also a document of our pain. Hard times are ahead,” Garcetti said of the budget, noting that the city’s financial straits are likely to be worse than after the 2008 recession.

Still, the mayor warned that rolling back restrictions too early in the hopes of boosting the economy would likely lead to a massive death toll.

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“Folks are saying open up the country, open up the city ... the worst thing we could do would be to lift those floodgates up,” he said.

In neighboring Ventura County, officials modified restrictions Saturday as protesters in several Southern California cities demanded such orders be lifted, citing economic downturn.

“We are positioned to focus on the road to reopening because our residents and businesses have sacrificed so much to comply with the public health orders and slow the spread of the virus in our community,” Mike Powers, Ventura County’s executive officer, said in a statement. “Our current situation is further strengthened by the work of our local hospitals to expand their capacity.”

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In San Diego, city parks will reopen for “individual use” on Tuesday, though recreation centers and parking lots will remain closed.

Newsom said Ventura County contacted the governor’s office prior to easing its restrictions. There is a cap when it comes to loosening restrictions issued by the state, he said. But in many instances, counties went beyond the state’s guidelines to strengthen restrictions at local levels. Newsom said those more stringent closures could be loosened.

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“We are working with others in California along those same lines,” he said.

As temperatures heat up this week, Ferrer asked L.A. County residents to refrain from visiting Ventura County to avoid overwhelming that county’s resources and exposing themselves to illness.

“You could inadvertently infect yourself,” she said.

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Some Ventura County businesses are being allowed to reopen, and gatherings of up to five people will be allowed for the first time since stay-at-home orders went into effect last month. Golf courses and bike shops can reopen, and in-person sales of vehicles are now permitted. Officials also reopened county-run parks and beaches at 5 p.m. Friday.

Among all of the Southern California counties, Ventura County has by far the fewest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Since the pandemic began, it has reported 428 coronavirus cases and 13 fatalities.

Perhaps cognizant of the calendar, San Francisco police fenced off Hippie Hill on Monday to deter anyone considering visiting the park to celebrate 4/20, the well-known holiday for marijuana enthusiasts.

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Thousands usually flock to Robin Williams Meadow for the annual festival in Golden Gate Park to light up among their fellow dope devotees. Instead, the only thing connecting the park and the holiday Monday was the harshest of mellows — a San Francisco Police Department tweet that read “stay off the grass.”

Times staff writers James Queally, Jaclyn Cosgrove and Noah Bierman contributed to this report.

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