L.A. County Reports First Coronavirus Fatality of Health Care Worker

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UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center

L.A. County leaders offer the latest updates on how coronavirus is impacting the area including news that 35 institutions are now under investigation for possible outbreaks, including nursing homes.

Ten more people have died from COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — in L.A. County, including the first known fatality of a health care worker.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, reported the news during Tuesday’s press briefing in downtown Los Angeles, where she was joined by county leaders in announcing the latest steps being taken across the Los Angeles area to combat the growing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to fatalities, Ferrer reported 548 newly diagnosed positive cases for a 48-hour spike of 890 and a total county case count of 3,011. Of the latter figure, Ferrer said from last Wednesday’s number of 799 through today, L.A. County has seen a tripling in positive cases, a stat she said reflects increased testing capacity.

As of a week ago, only 6,000 residents had been tested; as of today, more than 19,000 have been. Still, she acknowledged the county’s limited testing capacity, long wait times — sometimes up to two week or longer to schedule tests — and delayed results that likely will influence numbers in the coming days. In response to the 10 deaths, Ferrer noted that four were individuals under the age of 65, and one person was under the age of 41. Though she cautioned the majority of the county's fatalities were individuals with underlying health conditions, “they all don’t [have them], which is a reminder of the ferociousness of this virus.” Speaking specifically of the health care worker, Ferrer expressed sympathy on behalf of “our county family” to the family of the individual, who she said “gave everything to our community.” No other information was released about the health care worker, other than they were over the age of 60.

“These aren’t just numbers. These are real people being mourned by their families and friends,” Ferrer said.

Health care workers have been in the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic, and even more so in California over the past 24 hours following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement of an application portal launched Monday, opening a call for medical staff to support hospitals across the state. During Newsom’s press conference — held an hour ahead of the L.A. County briefing — he said that 25,000 licensed individuals have already signed up for the paid positions. Applicants will now be vetted, and he said he’s encouraged by the number of medical professionals who are willing to join those already putting “themselves on the front line” of the crisis. “We were overwhelmed” in a good way, he said, adding that he’s been personally touched by the response. “I’ve never been more damn inspired in my life.”

Newsom also reported coronavirus cases state-wide. Those numbers included total positive cases of 6,932 and 150 deaths thus far, with 1,617 patients currently hospitalized; of those, 657 remain in intensive care. Newsom said, based on a five-day average, California has reported a doubling in hospitalizations and tripling in the number of patients in ICU. “That is not an insignificant increase,” he said, expanding on the data points. “There’s no question we are not out of the woods yet, by no stretch of the imagination.”

Newsom took a few minutes to express gratitude in reporting that Virgin Orbit, one of Richard Branson’s Virgin stable of companies, is in process of prototyping respirators to help meet hospital demands. He said the devices will “not be as nuanced as ventilators,” but will be able to “meet the moment.” He did not specify a number but said the prototype process is currently underway. “They deserve credit for being willing to reprioritize production efforts and meeting us where we need the most support, and that’s on the ventilator side,” said Newsom in expanding on efforts by those in the private sector to step up and make civic contributions. “Thank you.” 

Back to L.A. County. Ferrer offered an update of the investigations her team is doing inside institutional facilities that have produced at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. Yesterday, she reported that there were 25 locations under investigation for potential outbreaks, but today that number has risen sharply to 35. Of the 35, 11 facilities have three or more confirmed cases, representing an outbreak. In total, there are 135 positive cases at those facilities, and that number includes both staff and residents. The data can be seen as alarming considering the majority of those facilities are nursing homes inhabited primarily by the elderly, the population most vulnerable to COVID-19. 

Other speakers at Tuesday's press conference included Chief Daryl L. Osby of the L.A. County Fire Department. Thus far, 10 fire fighters have tested positive for the virus and of those, seven have fully recovered and the others remain in isolation but are “doing well," Osby said in explaining how the pandemic has affected his rank and file. He also reported that during the month of March, his department responded to approximately 1,070 calls per day with 250 of those coded as “potentially having COVID-19.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said seven members of his team have tested positive while 49 are currently under medical quarantine. After offering his updates, Villanueva then addressed another of the day's headlines, the one about his ouster as head of emergency operations in L.A. County following a Board of Supervisors vote on Monday night. The motion — presented in November following the devastating Woolsey fire — will see him cede oversight, but Villanueva said that the "ball is in play" right now, in reference to the current pandemic, and thus, "we're not going to let it drop." Until the board presents a plan to replace his personnel, they will remain in place. 

Supervisor Kathryn Barger confirmed Villanueva's stance and said the public should see no changes. She also acknowledged that in terms of optics, the timing "is not the best" but that everyone's mission remains "putting lives first." 

In the spirit of putting lives first and improving the quality of the lives for California residents who are currently isolating under the "Safer at Home" ordinance, leaders offered a series of telephone numbers for various services, listed below.

Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health
1-800-854-7771, a hotline available for calls 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for access to mental health services

L.A. County Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-978-3600, a hotline available for calls 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for access to support, services and shelter information

Stay Home. Save Lives. Check In. Hotline
1-833-544-2374, a hotline and initiative announced by Governor Newsom designed to help seniors stay connected during period of isolation.

General Response Hotline
2-1-1, a free and confidential service that helps residents locate various resources