L.A. County Coronavirus Update: 22 New Deaths, Higher Mortality Rate in Black Population

People walk past graffiti of Prince Harry wearing a hoodie reading "Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands," on April 7, 2020- Getty - H 2020
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Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer reported 550 new cases for a total of 6,910 positive cases and 169 deaths to date.

An additional 22 people have died from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths in the area to 169 to date. 

L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer reported the fatalities during Tuesday's press briefing in downtown Los Angeles where, for the first time, she delivered statistics on race and ethnicity amid growing concerns across the U.S. of how the novel coronavirus is disproportionately affecting black people, specifically populations in places like Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans. 

Ferrer offered the disclaimer that the information is only partial and preliminary, based on 57 percent of the 93 deaths thus far (43 percent are missing or unreported). Of those, 28 percent are Latino, 27 percent white, 19 percent Asian, 17 percent African American and 9 percent "other." Based on infection rates and total population counts, African American residents have a "slightly higher rate of death than other ethnicities," she said, adding that her team will be watching these numbers closely as they gather complete data. Per reporting in other cities, black populations are facing steeper fatality rates. For example, in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards reported that black residents accounted for more than 70 percent of 512 deaths. 

It's an issue that also came up during California Gov. Gavin Newsom's press conference on the virus, held just prior to that of L.A. County's. Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris followed Newsom's opening remarks and said there is a "true and unfortunate" history of medical mistreatment that has created real issues of trust between the African American community and the health care system, something that has factored into the spread of information about the pandemic. She called on trusted leaders, elders and members of the faith community to help spread the message for folks to "stay home, save lives and practice social distancing."

On Monday, Ferrer also explained that there are many demographics in L.A. County — among them black, native Hawaiian, Alaskans and others — who are more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions and thus, more likely to suffer serious illness from the coronavirus. 

Tuesday's briefing also included the latest statistics from across the county: 550 new cases (970 over 48 hours) for a total of 6,910 positive cases; 10 cases in the homeless population, including one case from a city shelter; 78 percent of all positive cases occurring between the ages of 18 to 65; 1,510 individuals hospitalized at some point during their illness; 869 currently hospitalized; 132 seeking treatment in intensive care units; of the 22 new deaths, 16 were over the age of 65 and all faced underlying health conditions; and the county's mortality rate has inched up to 2.4 percent. 

Once again, Ferrer reported a significant increase in the number of institutional investigations her team is overseeing across nursing and assisted living homes, treatment centers, jails and prisons. Currently, they are investigating 121 settings where at least one person has tested positive for COVID-19. That number was 67 on Friday and 109 as of Monday. Those facilities have accounted for 552 positive cases and 37 deaths thus far. There are 30 confirmed cases in jails, 10 in prisons and two in juvenile detention centers. 

Ferrer also confirmed a Los Angeles Times report that stated that wealthier communities have better access to testing while those in low-income communities do not. She did not cite specific figures, but did say her team is working on gathering the data. Another significant portion of Tuesday's press briefing included a mention of "Holy Week." Passover begins on Wednesday and Easter follows on Sunday, and during such times, Ferrer acknowledged that religious residents will be looking to spend time with families and faith communities. Please don't, she said. "It pains me to say this, we have to find ways to honor our 'Safer at Home' order and be safe while we're together emotionally but apart physically." Ferrer asked that residents cancel in-person gatherings and even those in their automobiles: "It's not really safe to do this."

L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who kicked off Tuesday's briefing, took a moment to mention something else she hopes residents quit doing this week: throwing plastic gloves on the ground. While she thanked residents for honoring public health officials requests to wear masks and gloves in public, she said they are seeing an alarming number of people littering. "Let's stay proud of our neighborhoods and our communities and keep our streets and our sidewalks clean," Barger said. "Please throw your gloves in the trash."

Per Tueday's numbers, the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. has now killed more New Yorkers than the 9/11 terror attacks as officials continue to lay down tough rhetoric to encourage people to follow strict social distancing guidelines. California Gov. Newsom did just that during his Tuesday press briefing: He offered a broader outlook on measures state officials are taking in the coronavirus crisis, including the creation of a “Playbook for Stress Relief” to help residents combat the pressures of a pandemic.

“Staying at home doesn't mean you’re alone,” Newsom said. “As a state, we are here to do what we can to support you.” He called on California Surgeon General Burke Harris to put together a strategy to help those in need, including caregivers who need “peer-to-peer support.” The playbook includes items like balanced nutrition, mindfulness practices, mental health care, physical activity, quality sleep, relying on supportive relationships and mental health care. Newsom tweeted out the information, and his post received a fair amount of criticism on the platform from users who took aim at the state’s handling of its unemployment benefits program via Employment Development Department.

More than two million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits in a two-week span and Newsom was questioned during the press conference about applicants dealing with unanswered phone calls due to state staffers only taking calls four hours per day. “We have to do more and do better,” he said, adding that they have added 200 staffers to keep up with the demand, with 800 more “available to be redeployed.” Officials are working to turn around benefits still within a three-week wait time.

Newsom also provided the latest coronavirus case counts for California, which included a total of 374 deaths and 15,865 total positive cases (a 10.7 percent increase), including 2,611 people currently hospitalized (a 4.1 percent increase) and 1,108 seeking treatment in intensive care units (a 2.1 percent increase). “We want to see those numbers go down,” he said, adding that the curve is “bending and stretching” as latest figures do not represent double-digit increases that California experienced a week ago. “That’s not to suggest by any stretch of the imagination that we’ll continue to see these declines.”