L.A. County Coronavirus Update: 11 More Deaths, 5 Cases Among the Homeless Population

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Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer

The county now has 3,518 positive coronavirus cases as public health leaders work to ramp up testing. Next week's goal is to complete 10,000 tests per day and if numbers hold, that could mean 1,000 more newly diagnosed coronavirus cases a day across the county, per Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

An additional 11 people have died from COVID-19 illness in Los Angeles County, bringing the total number of fatalities in the area to 65 to date.

Of those who have died, nine were over the age of 65 and only two did not have underlying health issues. One person was between 18-40 and the other person was in the 41-65 range; both of those individuals had underlying health conditions. The mortality rate in L.A. County remains constant at 1.8 percent. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of L.A. County's Department of Public Health, reported the latest numbers during Wednesday's press briefing, which was held downtown in the Board of Supervisors headquarters, where she was joined by board chair Kathryn Barger and Dr. Christina Ghaly, Health Services Director.

"Every day reporting these numbers is devastating, and I know it's more devastating for families and friends who have experienced this tremendous loss," Ferrer said at the start of her remarks that, for days now, have opened on an emotional bent of gratitude for county leadership mixed with sympathy for lives lost as residents face an unprecedented pandemic of historic proportions that has led to widespread shutdowns in non-essential business operations and a devastated economy. She also reported 513 newly diagnosed cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total case count countywide to 3,518 to date. She noted that in the past 48 hours, the case count has risen by more than 1,000.

As part of Wednesday's briefing, public health officials cleared up some previous figures by erasing 11 cases from the earlier count as those individuals have been determined to not be L.A. County residents. Statewide, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California currently has 8,155 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus and 1,855 of those are receiving care in state hospitals, with 774 of those patients being treated in intensive care units, showing the severity of the disease. "This disease can impact anyone," he tweeted about the news. "Take this seriously."

In L.A. County, 733 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have been hospitalized at some point, representing 20 percent of cases. Public health officials have kept a close watch on the homeless and jail populations and on Wednesday, Ferrer reported that the county now has five positive cases from those experiencing homelessness. None have died thus far, and Ferrer said as far as she knows, none of the five are currently hospitalized. She also provided an updated on the 43 investigations her team is overseeing at institutional settings where outbreaks can be threatening, particularly to populations most vulnerable to the disease, such as the elderly and those who reside in close corridors. Ferrer defined institutional settings as places such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential treatment centers, homeless shelters, jails, prisons and acute care facilities. According to the Los Angeles Times, one of those facilities is a Sylmar juvenile hall where a probation officer has tested positive, leading to the quarantine of 21 juvenile detainees. 

Ferrer also provided an update on testing, which remains a hot-button topic across the city with limited testing capacity and delayed results, which have impacted the numbers. As of Tuesday, she said, the city was able to complete and additional 1,000-plus tests, bringing the total number of completed tests to 21,000, which translates to 12-13 percent of positive cases, based on current numbers. Ferrer said that by next week, the county hopes to see a huge spike in the number of testings labs can complete and they're shooting for 10,000 per day. If current stats hold, she said that could mean an additional 1,000 positive cases per day in L.A. County. 

On the subject of personal protective masks, Ferrer said that new guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control shows that even homemade masks made out of cotton or fastened out of bandanas or scarves can help prevent droplets from escaping and potentially infecting others. However, she said that residents should not be buying, ordering or using N95 medical-grade masks as those should be reserved exclusively for health care workers and those on the front lines. "If our health care works do not have [personal protective equipment] it’s impossible to do their jobs and it's impossible for us to get the health care we need," explained Ferrer, before adding that people can rely on their own makeshift ones. "The mask is not a shield and it doesn’t replace the request to stay home and social distance and using hand washing as a major means to not infect yourself after touching yourself or something else." 

Once again, she was asked to provide a forecast for a peak in L.A. County and whether she could predict a return to normalcy by May, June or even July. "I'd be so happy if I were the person who could answer those questions," Ferrer said with a smile. "I can’t. The only way we know when we peak is when that actually happens." She was able to provide specific shout-outs to essential workers who have stepped up to continue to provide those services, small business owners who have been impacted, the media for accurately reporting the facts of coronavirus and "every single resident of L.A. County" that has helped to slow the spread, even when it feels inconvenient "or scary." Added Ferrer: "These are times that we're living in that we never anticipated and never experienced. The COVID-19 pandemic and orders for slowing the spread are unprecedented. I want to thank everyone for doing their part."