Los Angeles County health officials on Thursday announced that COVID-19 — the illness caused by the coronavirus — has become the leading cause of death in the county, surpassing fatalities from flu, emphysema and heart disease.
Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, confirmed 68 new coronavirus-linked deaths, bringing the total to just under 800 since the outbreak began. The county also reported 1,081 new COVID-19 cases — pushing the overall number to 17,508.
Of those who most recently died, 51 were over age 65, 11 were 41 to 65 and three were 18 to 40. Ages were not available for the other cases. Among all who have died from coronavirus infection in the county, 89% had some kind of underlying health condition, Ferrer said.
“This is underscoring the need for people who have underlying health conditions to make sure that they’re staying home, that they’re avoiding close contact with as many other people as possible and that at the first sign of illness they are contacting their healthcare provider,” she said.
The average number of daily deaths related to the coronavirus in Los Angeles County is 44. In comparison, each day, five people die from influenza during flu season, eight die daily from emphysema and 31 die of heart disease, on average, Ferrer said.
“These are our leading causes of death across the county, and at the average rate of 44 deaths [per day] ... COVID-19 has now become the leading cause of death across the county,” she said. “These numbers are a stark reminder for all of us of the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19 because in slowing the spread, we have the opportunity, each and every one of us, to save a life.”
The increase in deaths in Los Angeles County comes a day after California reported 118 new fatalities — the highest number of deaths in a single day statewide. More than 1,500 people have died across California.
The surge in fatalities marks a roughly 8.5% increase in the number of deaths statewide, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.
“It’s a reminder we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.
Despite the uptick in deaths, public health officials say hospitals are not being overwhelmed, but they continue to see a steady flow of patients. Models unveiled this week project that, should residents continue to abide by stay-at-home orders and maintain social distancing when they do venture outside, Los Angeles County should have enough hospital and ICU beds, as well as respirators, to accommodate the expected number of coronavirus patients.
The sobering numbers come amid a push from some communities to loosen regulations that have kept Californians inside for weeks.
A group of protesters on Wednesday drove around City Hall in downtown L.A., honking and waving signs reading “Open Cali Now” and “Freedom is Contagious.” Some held signs supporting President Trump. It was the latest of several protests across the country. In the past several days, similar uprisings were held in San Diego, Newport Beach, Sacramento, Huntington Beach and San Clemente.
Orange, Riverside and Ventura counties have started to pull back on some of their coronavirus-related restrictions — reopening golf courses, parks, beaches and other outdoor areas — as health officials in L.A. County urge residents and public officials to stay the course.
Newsom reemphasized this week that there are six key indicators for potentially modifying the stay-at-home order. Among those is increasing testing capacity, which he said may be among the most important.
Currently, the state can provide about 16,000 tests a day, he said, and the goal is to boost that to 25,000 a day by the end of the month.
Counties across the state have also started boosting their testing capacities in recent weeks. Los Angeles County expanded coronavirus testing this month to include any resident who has symptoms and wants to be tested for the virus.
Orange County this week launched a network of six clinics that officials say will have the ability to test an additional 600 people per day. The tests will be done by appointment for anyone showing symptoms of the virus.
Between 350 and 1,100 people were previously being tested for COVID-19 per day countywide. Eventually, county health officials hope to be conducting 2,000 tests per day through the network.
Orange County public health officials reported two additional coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, bringing the toll to 36. There have been more than 1,800 confirmed cases of the virus in the county.
Newsom and others have said that California and the nation have not necessarily seen the worst of the coronavirus and that lifting stay-at-home rules too early could be disastrous. Ahead of the unseasonably warm weather expected this weekend, state and county officials encouraged Californians to stay at home as much as possible and avoid crowded outdoor areas.
If people fail to social distance this weekend, the governor said he expects to be announcing a rise in the number of deaths, hospitalizations and new infections in the coming weeks as a result.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis emphasized that while the warm weather may look like an exciting opportunity to head outside, it is more important than ever that people continue social distancing efforts.
“This will test our resolve to remain committed to the safer-at-home orders,” she said. “Now is not the time to let our guards down and lose the gains we have made.”
Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.