L.A. Residents Urged to Avoid Essential Errands During "Critical" Week in Coronavirus Fight

Wilshire Los Angeles March 17 2020

Fifteen people in Los Angeles County have died in the past 24 hours from the novel coronavirus, leading to a slight uptick in the county’s mortality rate to 2.3 percent. The total number of positive cases stands at 6,360.

Over the weekend, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, told Americans now is the time to avoid essential errands like going to the grocery store and pharmacy as public health leaders continue to urge tighter restrictions on normal life to flatten the coronavirus curve nationwide.

On Monday, those guidelines hit the West Coast as Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health, offered the same directives. “If you have enough supplies in your home, this would be the week to skip shopping altogether,” she noted during a press briefing to kick-start the week. April was predicted to be the toughest month in the coronavirus pandemic for Californians and now it’s been narrowed it down to the next seven days as the number of newly diagnosed positive cases continues to rise, as do the fatalities. California remains under "Safer at Home" guidelines instituted in mid-March that effectively limited all non-essential activities, errands and entertainment. Beaches, hiking trails and other outdoor activities have also been closed off county-wide.

Ferrer reported 15 additional deaths, along with 420 new cases, or 1,083 over a 48-hour period, leading to a slight uptick in the county’s mortality rate to 2.3 percent. To date, 147 individuals have died from COVID-19 and the number of positive cases stands at 6,360. COVID-19 remains a most challenging disease for those over the age of 65 and those facing underlying health conditions. Ferrer focused on that, while adding that 83 percent of people who have died faced underlying health conditions and 76 percent have been over the age of 65.

“It’s important to us that if you’re elderly or have underlying health conditions, you stay home except to go to medical appointments,” she explained. “Or you are putting yourself at risk for being infected and becoming seriously ill.” Ferrer urged those demographics to rely on delivery services. Those over 65 are now able to participate in the county’s meal delivery service, also announced during Monday’s briefing.

Ferrer once again provided updates on the investigations her team is doing in institutional settings, a number that continues to skyrocket. On Friday, public health officials were looking into 67 facilities that reported at least one positive case of coronavirus. On Monday, Ferrer reported that number to be 109 at venues like nursing and assisted living homes, correctional facilities and jails. Across the 67 facilities, there are 512 positive cases including 257 residents, 255 staff members and 26 fatalities. In correctional facilities and jails, there are 31 positive cases including 22 staff and nine inmates.

Ferrer then turned her attention to the subject of masks. Last week, public health leaders across the country pivoted to guidance indicating that people could benefit from wearing masks while in public. Ferrer, for the first time, made a plea to Angelenos that “we ask that you please wear a clean cloth face covering at all times.” She was quick to point out that it does not prevent infection but for asymptomatic individuals, it can help curb the spread.

Masking, however, does not replace the “powerful tools of staying home and isolating,” nor does it replace hand washing and other protective measures. Residents are encouraged to also use homemade or store-bought cloth masks while completely avoiding the use of N95 masks, which should be exclusively reserved for health care workers.

During the Q&A portion of the briefing, Ferrer was asked why this week has been determined to be most crucial in the coronavirus battle. She said that numbers of positive cases remains large at north of 6,000, and could exponentially climb in coming days as they work towards a goal of testing 10,000 residents per day.

At two separate points during Monday’s briefing, she was asked to comment on the racial and ethnic breakdowns of fatalities and COVID-19 infections, based on knowledge gleaned from other parts of the country, specifically that black people have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus. Ferrer said her team is still collecting data, a chore that has been hampered by incomplete information on some of the forms. “It’s not that we aren’t giving you data,” she said, adding that it is concerning to know that the coronavirus most seriously affects those with underlying health conditions as some populations face higher rates of infection on nearly every illness, making them most susceptible to COVID-19. “We’re looking hard to get it ourselves.”