L.A. County Public Health Director Updates Case Count, Delivers "Sobering" Look at Coronavirus Pandemic

Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer - Getty - H 2020
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

"It’s our hope that the rate increase continues to be manageable and we don’t overwhelm our health care system," Ferrer said during Friday's COVID-19 briefing.

For the better part of a month now, the focal point of Los Angeles County’s daily press briefings has been the coronavirus case updates provided by Dr. Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Department of Public Health Director. She regularly starts with something similar to, "I’m very sorry to have to report this," before revealing how many people have died over the previous 24 hours. Then she moves on to the latest number of positive cases.

During Friday’s briefing, however, Ferrer switched it up to provide a "sobering" look at the global scale of the coronavirus pandemic by opening with world statistics before zooming in on how the unprecedented crisis is affecting the U.S., and later, the county and the city of Los Angeles.

Globally, she noted, there are more than a million cases of COVID-19 and the mortality rate is "a staggering five percent." The U.S. accounts for more than a quarter of those cases — 276,995 infected as of Friday — with a mortality rate of a much lower 2.5 percent. In California, Ferrer said there are more than 11,000 confirmed cases with mortality rate at 2.3 percent; L.A. County accounts for 4,566 cases with a lower death rate of 1.9 percent. 

Those figures were followed by L.A. County’s most recent numbers. Since Thursday, there have been 11 more deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and an additional 521 newly diagnosed positive cases. Seven of those individuals were over the age of 65, all of whom suffered from underlying health conditions. To date, 89 people have lost their lives in L.A. County for a mortality rate of 1.9 percent. After reporting several mouthfuls of numbers, Ferrer always pauses to offer something personal, and on Friday she said this: "The entire L.A. community mourns these losses."

Of the positive cases in L.A. County, 22 percent of individuals have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. Approximately 541 individuals are currently hospitalized with 347 of those aged 55 and over. Ferrer paid special attention today to mention the number of investigations her team is overseeing at institutional settings across the county. Since last Thursday, those investigations have more than tripled as the public health team is looking into 67 facilities where there is at least one confirmed positive case. The settings are defined as nursing homes, shelters, treatment centers, supportive living homes, jails and prisons. Across the 67 facilities, there is a total of 321 positive cases (166 residents, 155 staff) and 11 deaths. In correctional facilities, there are 25 cases (18 staff, seven inmates). 

"As a reminder, we will continue to see more cases among staff and residents in institutional settings," Ferrer added, a signal of the seriousness of those potential outbreaks caused by close living quarters filled with sometimes vulnerable populations such as the elderly.

All week long, she had promised to include some snapshot of predictions moving forward or expand on potential peak of the outbreak. Ferrer didn't specify dates or offer a prediction on a timeline, but she did say that what has happened thus far in L.A. County is precisely in line with predictions. "We knew we would see a corresponding increase in positive cases," as the county accelerated testing, she said, and that is what happened. Ferrer once again said the goal heading into next week is to test at least 10,000 residents per day and if statistics hold, 10 percent of those individuals will test positive, hence the need to prepare for 1,000 new cases every day. 

"This is what it means for us," she said. "The next few weeks are going to be critically important, but it’s our hope that the rate increase continues to be manageable and we don’t overwhelm our health care system."

To accomplish that, Ferrer said, it depends on the public continuing to embrace strict social guidelines in terms of staying home, only leaving for essential activities such as grocery store, medical appointments or pharmacy runs, washing hands "at every single opportunity" and staying at least six feet away from other people in public. She spoke directly to grocery store employees, asking them to consider free delivery services to those who are most at risk — the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. 

Ferrer closed her portion of the press conference by talking about the new guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control with regard to masking. Ferrer said its now believed that even homemade masks are helping prevent further rates of infection, but when she was asked whether people should buy them off the street or from vendors, she said it's unnecessary: "It’s easiest and best to make masks at home that you can launder every day."