L.A. County Coronavirus-Related Deaths Top 1,000 as 1,056 More Residents Test Positive for COVID-19

Downtown Los Angeles April 13 2020

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday reported a record number of unemployment benefits and 235,000 freelance applicants on the first day of a new system that will allow gig workers to be paid for lost wages.

The death toll in Los Angeles County has surpassed 1,000 with an additional 56 lives lost over the past 24 hours due to COVID-19 illness, it was announced Wednesday.

Of those who have died, 92 percent have faced underlying health issues, a percentage that has remained consistent over the past two weeks, said L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, underscoring the need for people with health issues to remain home and follow social distancing guidelines to prevent serious illness and death. She also reported an additional 1,541 newly diagnosed cases, bring the county's coronavirus case count to 22,485, close to half of California's statewide total of 46,500. 

Ferrer attributed the large number of newly diagnosed cases to both a lag in retrieving weekend results and increased testing efforts at institutional settings including nursing and skilled nursing facilities, sites that continue to be heavily impacted by the virus and accounting for 40 percent of all deaths in L.A. County.

Ferrer also touched on the Board of Supervisors' motion to address the impact of COVID-19 along racial and socioeconomic lines. Per data, the novel coronavirus is proving to be more devastating for certain groups, including African Americans, Latinos and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The findings have led Ferrer and her team to move towards increased testing in certain areas of the county and to boost health care efforts including providing culturally appropriate literature, initiatives that have been discussed in recent weeks but are being ramped up due to additional data points. 

The subject of lifting strict safe-at-home mandates and the process of reopening California's economy again proved to be a topic of discussion on Wednesday, with Ferrer being asked how decisions are being weighed against the prospect of a second wave hitting the area this fall or winter. She said that while that is a possibility, "nothing really changes in terms of the basics" like continuing to practice social distancing, maintaining a high testing capacity and having proper infectious disease control measures in place. 

"We need to move into recovery," said Ferrer. "We just have to do it in a way that allows more people to get back to work while we keep our distance and figure out how to do work in a different way while letting us get back to some normalcy in our lives. It's on all of us to keep our distance. If we fail and reopen — as we need to do — and not be able to do a really good job on physical distancing and infection control and testing and tracing contacts, we will see a spike and we will see a lot of infection." 

The county briefing followed an earlier one out of Sacramento from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who announced a series of initiatives as part of California's COVID-19 relief efforts. He revealed that the state has entered into a formal pact with the federal government, philanthropy and state farmers/ranchers to provide surplus food, dairy and produce to food banks. He said California farmers have experienced a 50 percent reduction in demand, leaving product and produce to spoil, while area food banks have seen a 73 percent spike. The partnership will "address that mismatch," he said. 

The deal includes 128 farmers who will provide food and product to 41 food banks in 58 counties. The goal is to provide 21 million pounds of fresh food and produce on a monthly basis, jump-started by $3.6 million raised thus far. 

Newsom also provided an update on the state's unemployment numbers. Since March 12, 3.7 million Californians have filed for benefits and more than $6 billion has been doled out, $1.2 billion of which was distributed in the past 24 hours. On Tuesday, the state opened the application system for freelance and gig workers and, not surprisingly, he said, there were more than 235,000 applicants for that program. He again acknowledged complaints of the system's infrastructure, explaining that they are dealing with an "unprecedented volume" of applicants and benefits, but they are working hard to ensure payments are distributed in a timely fashion and as quickly as possible.