L.A. County COVID-19 Death Toll Reaches 729 With 1,318 Newly Diagnosed Cases

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Of the 729 residents who have died, 89 percent of those faced serious health conditions prior to becoming infected.

An additional 66 Los Angeles County residents have died from COVID-19 illness in the past 24 hours, it was reported Wednesday.

That brings the total number of deaths across the county during the coronavirus pandemic to 729, with 89 percent of those patients suffering from underlying health conditions. Of those 66 who most recently died, 48 were over the age of 65 and more than half faced underlying health conditions.

"It underscores the need for all of us to do the best job possible in making sure those who have serious health conditions can stay home, be safe and avoid close contact," Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said in announcing the latest case counts and response efforts during the county’s daily press briefing from the Board of Supervisors headquarters in downtown L.A..

She also reported an additional 1,318 newly diagnosed cases, bringing the total number to 16,435, a figure that includes 477 cases in Long Beach and 261 in Pasadena. The number of cases among L.A.’s sizable homeless population continue to increase as there are now 100 positive cases, with 55 of those coming from sheltered individuals. The rising numbers come as a result of an outbreak at Skid Row shelter Union Rescue Mission, as Ferrer reported Tuesday. There are now eight active investigations at homeless shelters across the county.

Shelters are among the 275 institutional settings where Ferrer’s team is conducting active investigations, but the primary focus right now is on skilled nursing facilities, in which the majority of the 292 institutional residents have died so far from COVID-19. That figure represents 40 percent of all deaths in the area.

Ferrer said that as research has revealed that asymptomatic people are capable of spreading the virus, public health officials have had to adjust strategies, protocols and guidance for such settings as skilled nursing homes, assisted living and other congregate facilities. Nursing homes pose a particular threat as workers, many of whom may have been infected with the virus but are not exhibiting any symptoms, are always in close contact with residents to bathe, feed and administer medical treatments and medication.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said her team is working to better understand the volume of testing that would be needed to do widespread testing in nursing homes to prevent further outbreaks. She said there are 350 nursing homes in the county, hosting 40,000 beds — figures that would require a massive effort to administer tests to all those residents, as well as staff.

During the briefing, Ghaly presented new modeling that showed where the county stands in terms of hospital beds, ventilators and ICU vacancies. The results were all positive as L.A. County is well prepared in all areas and well below initial projections. "The data shows there continues to be a leveling off of cases," she said, adding that new infections, however, are not decreasing yet. Because of that, officials are not yet ready to relax strict safe-at-home orders but are instead continuing to advocate for physical and social distancing measures.

"Please know that your actions have saved lives and are protecting the lives of those around you," she said. "This will end and until then, thank you for your perseverance during these difficult times."