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California surpasses 16,000 COVID-19 deaths

A woman holds a candle at a September vigil for workers at a Foster Farms plant in Livingston, Calif., who died of COVID-19
People gather in Livingston, Calif., in September for a candlelight vigil for eight workers at a local Foster Farms plant who died of COVID-19.
(Andrew Kuhn / Merced Sun-Star)

Nearly eight months after California officially recorded its first death related to COVID-19, more than 16,000 others have died at the hands of the virus.

The state crossed the tragic threshold Friday as the country turned its attention to the health of the president and first lady after it was announced at 1 a.m. EDT Friday that they tested positive for the coronavirus. President Trump was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Friday night after White House officials reported that he had “mild” COVID-19 symptoms. He is expected to remain hospitalized for a few days.

Patients 65 and older have accounted for roughly 74% of deaths in the state, and Latino people have comprised the largest share, roughly 48% of deaths.

With medical therapies and vaccines still developing, social distancing protections, use of face coverings and testing have been the only true tools to combat against the spread of the virus — topics that were discussed briefly during Tuesday night’s presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden and his wife Jill tested negative for the virus Friday, three days after the debate. Health experts say it can take up to seven days for the infection to be detected in a person’s system, and several specialists said Biden “isn’t out of the woods yet.”

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Since the pandemic began, California has reported more than 822,700 infections — more than any other state. Though daily case counts and hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks, officials have forecast an 89% increase in the latter by Oct. 25. Following a surge in emergency room visits and a slight, but notable, increase in cases, the statewide projected transmission rate of the virus has risen.

In Los Angeles County, officials are preparing for a possible surge, warning that intensive care capacity could become strained in upcoming weeks if a spike in cases does occur. The assessment is based on the county’s projected transmission rate, which currently sits at 1 — a metric that relies on the understanding that people’s actions remain constant.

“If our behavior does not remain constant, we’ll see that change,” Human Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Wednesday.

The county recently gave the green light for more sectors to reopen, despite warnings that COVID-19 numbers could rise again in the near future, requiring a pullback. Nail salons were given the go ahead to resume indoor operations Thursday, the county’s school waiver program and outdoor operations at card rooms will be allowed to resume Monday, and indoor shopping malls will be able to follow suit Wednesday.

L.A. County, which reported 21 additional coronavirus related deaths and 1,324 new cases Friday, has accounted for the bulk of the state’s total infections and deaths. The majority of people who have died had underlying conditions. Hypertension and diabetes are the most common such conditions and have factored in more than half the county’s deaths. Neurologic conditions and cardiovascular disease are also common in victims, officials have said.

Weight, age and gender have played a major role in a person’s risk for developing serious symptoms of COVID-19. Obese men 65 and older are especially vulnerable. Those factors are currently under scrutiny in regards to Trump, who is 74 and considered obese.

However, even though all races and backgrounds have been struck by the virus, Black and Latino people, Pacific Islanders and the poor have been disproportionately affected, largely due to longstanding lack of medical access compared to members of majority white or wealthy communities.

Under a new state requirement, California counties will not be allowed to reopen further until infections among those hardest-hit groups are reduced.

“This isn’t just a matter of higher cases in these communities — it is an issue of life and death that is hurting all Californians,” the state’s acting public health officer, Dr. Erica Pan, said in a news release. “An all-community, cross-sector approach to work together to slow the transmission of COVID in all populations will help ensure we reopen our economy safely, protect our essential workers and support our local partners.”

The equity requirement will undoubtedly affect L.A. County, and several others in Southern California.


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