L.A. County nursing home death rate drops two-thirds in a week, but an average of 7 residents still die each day

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A worker at Eisenberg Village, an assisted living facility in Reseda conducts screenings for people with coronavirus symptoms in March 2020. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

A worker at Eisenberg Village, an assisted living facility in Reseda conducts screenings for people with coronavirus symptoms in March 2020. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The coronavirus outbreak is still killing Angelenos in nursing homes at an alarming rate, but the grim situation is improving, officials said Wednesday.

This week, an average of seven nursing home residents are dying of COVID-19 every day, a tragic data point, said Los Angeles County public health director Barbara Ferrer.

But it’s actually a sharp decline from the daily average of 21 nursing home resident deaths the county recorded last week, and roughly 25 deaths per day three weeks ago, she added.

“We have a long way to go,” Ferrer said. “But I really want to thank everybody who’s been so helpful, making sure that we get on a path that protects both the employees, and the residents in these facilities.”

Nearly half of the 2,195 coronavirus patients who have died in L.A. County were residents of nursing homes. The clustered, elderly patients — many of whom have underlying conditions — have been susceptible to the highly contagious illness.

While accounting for a staggering number of deaths, the 5,300 nursing home residents who have tested positive make up only about 11% of the 48,700 confirmed cases countywide.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors voted to appoint an inspector general to investigate and strengthen the outbreak response at skilled nursing facilities. The board is expected to pick someone to fill the role by July 1.

Ferrer said the newly created position will allow the county to “make sure that we’re doing everything possible to improve the situation.”

Previously, officials said they would test all residents and staff at the county’s 388 nursing homes. But that effort has since been scaled back, with plans to test only a portion of residents in homes that have yet to report any cases.

As of Wednesday, testing had been completed in 163 facilities, and screening was underway in another 63, according to Ferrer. It’s unclear when the process will begin in the remaining 162 homes.

And as of last Friday, the state mandated that nursing facilities without cases still test all employees. Ferrer said the public health department is working with local homes to ensure that’s being done.

The pandemic is also disproportionately affecting nursing home staff. In L.A. County, 22 of the 30 health care workers who have lost their lives worked in skilled nursing or assisted living homes, Ferrer said.

A total of 4,861 medical professionals and first responders had been infected countywide as of Wednesday, an increase of 563 since last week.

Nursing home staff account for 44% of all confirmed health care cases, which Ferrer said is “in part a reflection of the increased testing at the sites.”

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