Coronavirus: L.A. County Reports Highest Spike With 128 New Cases and Two Deaths

Los Angeles Freeway March 20 2020
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At the daily coronavirus press briefing, L.A. County reports that over 536 have been infected by the coronavirus.

Two more people have died in L.A. County as the number of coronavirus cases soared with 128 newly reported positive cases, bringing the total infected to 536. 

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of L.A. County Department of Public Health, announced the news today during the county's daily press briefing amid the coronavirus pandemic. She was joined by L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, City Council President Nury Martinez, Councilmember David Ryu and Dr. Clayton Kazan, medical director of the L.A. County Fire Department in announcing the latest measures the county is taking to combat the growing crisis, including the procurement of 20,000 tests in partnership with a South Korean firm, as well as the shuttering of beaches, parks and hiking trails following a weekend during which some residents ignored social distancing guidelines. 

Ferrer said the 536 cases includes 17 cases out of Long Beach and three in Pasadena as both of those cities operate with independent public health departments. A total of 90 individuals have been hospitalized. She also noted that 80 percent of cases are between the ages of 18 and 65 and 42 percent between 18 and 40. "This virus can, in fact, infect people across the board," she said, adding that all individuals who've tested positive are now isolated and their close contacts quarantined. 

Even with the new numbers, Ferrer explained that a total of 4,700 tests have been administered in the county, a low number for an area that counts more than 10 million residents. She acknowledged that there's been "frustration" about testing, which continues to be a hot-button issue across the U.S. as leaders compare efforts to those of other countries like South Korea and China that managed to test many more individuals within the same time frame. She said in the absence of widespread testing, social distancing — a recommendation that people keep 6 feet of distance between one another in group settings — remains crucial. "Social distancing isn’t a 'sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't.' For this to be successful, we need to practice social distancing all of the time."

The daily briefing, plagued by audio issues for the first few speakers, did include a significant portion on testing, most notably coming from Ryu. He was charged with making the announcement that, after working "around the clock" with city and county partners to secure test kits to combat the virus, L.A. County had struck a deal with South Korean firm Seegene Technologies Inc. to provide 20,000 new coronavirus tests. Those kits will be prioritized for first-responders, medical professionals and those on the front lines in the battle to flatten the curve. 

Tests will be free to the public, Ryu noted, adding that it will help "identify our current problems so we can isolate and treat the problem. We cannot beat a pandemic we cannot see." He praised supervisors Barger and Hilda Solis, and City Council chief Martinez for their combined efforts to strike a deal with Seegene, a firm that is currently providing testing in 40 countries. 

Ryu was among several at the podium today who expressed frustration over the government's response to the pandemic. "The United States has fallen behind other nations. We can't wait on federal government to fix it," he said. "Los Angeles is not going to wait around. Los Angeles is working with manufacturing around the globe. ... This is just the beginning. There's a lot of work left to be done and everyone needs to be involved — from government to academia to private industry — to meet this crisis head-on.”

He was followed at the podium by Martinez, who put out a call to action in an attempt to reach all local factories and manufacturers who might be able to assist leaders in producing supplies needed. "We need all hands on deck to properly address this crisis with the speed and skill it requires," she said. "We need everyone to help us. We should not wait for the president to use the Defense Production Act."

Sheriff Villanueva said his department has committed to providing 250,000 N95 masks to a medical firm in Long Beach for distribution to hospitals throughout the county. An additional 125,000 will be provided to the Los Angeles Police Department, and more to other law enforcement agencies. Osby, who revealed that the county has seen a surge in 911 calls and reported incidents from 1,400 to 1,500 per day, also commented on reports that members of his team have tested positive for coronavirus. He would not confirm any particular numbers but he did say that there have been firefighters "impacted" following exposure, and they are now at home and "doing well." 

Speaking of staying home, a chunk of the briefing was dedicated to an expansion of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's "Safer at Home" ordinance, which was announced at the end of last week. It encouraged residents to stay home but did include activities that were safe including walking, hiking and biking. However, after seeing photos of packed hiking trails and beaches over the weekend, stricter measures have now been introduced that include the closing of beach parking lots and the shuttering of all trails, both in Santa Monica and county wide. 

Ferrer said she saw some of those images showing off activities where people were clustered in groups and she reminded people "this is not appropriate," adding that "when you're out and about, practice the maximum amount of social distancing even in outdoor spaces." Barger added that residents should be advised to walk around their own neighborhoods and the community around them. 

"This is a storm unlike any we’ve ever seen," said Sheriff Villanueva, adding, "a storm with a beginning and an end, when the sun will come out."