The number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County climbed past 31,000 Saturday with a total of 1,512 deaths.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported another 1,011 coronavirus cases and 44 new deaths attributed to the respiratory illness.
The majority of those who died were over the age of 65 and had underlying health conditions.
So far about 92% of people who have died because of COVID-19 have had underlying health conditions.
As the county moves toward reopening certain locations that have been shuttered to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the county’s public health director Barbara Ferrer on Friday urged those with conditions like chronic lung disease, asthma, serious heart conditions or HIV to stay home.
“This is more important now than ever because there are more people out and about in our communities,” she said during a news conference Friday.
The county is home to about a quarter of California’s residents but has half of the state’s known coronavirus deaths and cases.
The health department has race and ethnicity for 1,397 people who have died because of COVID-19. The data shows that even as lower-income residents and communities of color have more limited access to testing, African Americans, Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders and people living in communities with high levels of poverty have had the highest numbers of deaths due to the respiratory illness, relative to their population size.
The death rate among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders is 89 deaths per 100,000 people. And for African Americans, it’s 18 deaths per hundred thousand people.
“These rates are significantly higher than the mortality rate for other races and ethnicities,” Ferrer said Friday. “And although some of the numbers are small, they are still very concerning.”
The coronavirus death rate for Latino residents is 15.5 per 100,000 people. For Asians, it’s 12 per every 100,000. It’s nine deaths per 100,000 white residents.
“Systematic injustices, including discriminatory policies, and institutional racism have led to the unequal distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities,” Ferrer said. “And this is in fact contributing to the staggering disproportionality we see in the outcomes around COVID-19.”
Ferrer said the health department is working on expanding community outreach and stepping up testing in underserved communities to address the disparities.
Though still limited, L.A. County’s testing capacity continues to increase with more drive-up testing sites popping up countywide. So far, about 12% of those whose test results were processed have tested positive, according to Ferrer.
At sites inside the city of L.A., any resident can get tested for the coronavirus, regardless of whether they show symptoms of COVID-19. But in L.A. County sites outside the city, testing remains limited to vulnerable groups and those with symptoms.
Residents can sign up for an appointment to get tested online.
The county has focused its testing efforts—and limited supplies—on expanding testing at settings where people are clustered close together and most vulnerable to getting serious illness.
Nearly half the people who have died due to COVID-19 in L.A. County were in such settings, and the majority of them were at skilled nursing facilities.
As of Saturday, 5,363 people in L.A. County who tested positive for the coronavirus had been hospitalized at some point.
The county had been scrambling to add more beds to its hospital hospital system, fearing a flood of patients capable of overwhelming hospitals. But as social distancing efforts took shape in the county, later projections showed that the county will be able to meet the demand for COVID-19 hospitalizations.
But Ferrer has warned that with more people out and about as more businesses and other locations are allowed to reopen, the county could see a spike in cases if people don’t adhere to social distancing and other public safety requirements.
“If you are out and about this weekend, please take every precaution since anyone of us, even if we are not sick, could be infected with COVID-19 and capable of infecting others,” Ferrer said in a statement Saturday. “These actions are critically important as we begin the journey of recovery so that we don’t find ourselves with large increases in hospitalizations and deaths that would require us to reinstitute restrictions.”
L.A. County on Friday moved into the second phase of its four-step plan to gradually reopening the economy after sweeping closures in response to the pandemic.
During this phase, florists and some retailers were allowed to reopen to offer curbside pickup only. Car dealership showrooms were also allowed to open and customers have to practice physical distancing.
Trails and golf courses were also allowed to open, but pro shops remain closed.
“Later next week, additional restrictions may be lifted to include other retailers, manufacturers, and recreational facilities,” the health department said in a news release.