More than half of L.A. County’s COVID-19 deaths were among people who resided in institutional settings

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More than half of 1,709 people who have died from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County resided in an institutional setting, officials announced Thursday.

The vast majority of the 865 people who died after residing at a facility in the county lived at a nursing home, according to Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.

“Please know that we are working as hard as we can to be sure that every facility is as safe as possible,” Ferrer said in announcing the grim milestone.

The institutions include shelters, jails, nursing homes and other types of assisted-living homes.

There are now 369 institutional settings in the county with at least one confirmed case of coronavirus that are under investigation. A total of 8,783 residents and staff at these facilities have tested positive.

Officials will be doing a new round of inspections at every skilled nursing facility in the county to make sure they are in compliance with infection control protocols.

The figures reflect a trend state and nationwide trend.

Nursing homes are the focal point of the virus outbreak in California, with at least 1,322 residents and workers dying from COVID-19, 46% of the statewide total, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

And as of late last month, more than 10,000 residents and staff at long-term care facilities have died from the respiratory illness, according to an analysis of state data by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

L.A. County has prioritized testing of residents and staff at local nursing homes and homeless shelters in an attempt to prevent further outbreaks, and Ferrer said additional staff, as well as assistance from state and federal officials, will help in that task.

COVID-19 mortality rate ‘worrisome’

Countywide, an additional 51 deaths and 925 coronavirus cases were reported Thursday, bringing the death toll to 1,709 and the total number of cases to 35,329.

Ferrer noted that the mortality rate of COVID-19 is far higher than that of influenza, which usually has a season that lasts six to seven months.

About 125 people died from the flu in L.A. County last year, with the annual average being about 250, she said.

“You can understand why the mortality rate for COVID-19 is so worrisome,” the director said. “Because it far exceeds what we’re normally used to seeing with a virus or communicable disease.”

Slowly reopening

On Wednesday, officials announced a new health order that does not have an end date.

More businesses and outdoor spaces are being allowed to open in the nation’s most populous county, however, as California moves toward recovery amid the ongoing pandemic.

Even as restrictions are lifted and more people leave their homes, officials urge residents to continue abiding by social distancing guidelines as the virus continues to kill dozens of people a day.

“The county health orders will not have an expiration date, because, unfortunately, COVID-19 does not have an expiration date at this time,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said. “Our most effective line of defense against the deadly coronavirus is staying at home, remaining aggressive about our hygiene and practicing physical distancing.”

On Wednesday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced he is requiring Angelenos to wear a face covering when they leave their homes or when they are near people outside their household.

Additionally, Ferrer said Thursday that per the county’s updated health order, all county residents should have a mask with them when they leave their home.

“If you are walking completely by yourself and there’s no one around you, you do not need to keep your mask on in that situation, the same if you’re going for a solitary run. But you now need to have face covering with you, because if you came by other people or were walking by other people, or you tried to go into a grocery store, you absolutely have to have that face covering on,” she explained.

Overall, the county’s safer-at-home order has helped curb the spread of coronavirus and ensured that the hospital system wasn’t overwhelmed, Dr. Christina Ghaly, health services director, said on Thursday.

“If everyone across Los Angeles County hadn’t honored the safer-at-home health officer order, then we would be in the midst of a public public health disaster, the likes of which none of us would like to be experiencing, and that would be difficult to imagine. But that’s not where we are today,” Ghaly said in presenting projections for the county.

She explained that while coronavirus transmission is still occurring, it is occurring at a much slower and steady rate, which “represents tremendous progress.”

Additionally, the number of new hospitalizations remain steady and are starting to decline.

Ghaly added that health officials are working toward devising a sustainable reopening plan aligned with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s that would not lead to a severe uptick in coronavirus cases in the future.

“While we should expect that the coronavirus will be with us for a long time, until there is a vaccine that is able to be broadly disseminated, we need a comprehensive approach that is multi-layered, nuanced and sustainable over the long run, and sustainable from many vantage points — public health, economic overall social and mental well being,” she said.

L.A. County by the numbers

More than 272,000 test results have been reported to the county department of health, and 11% of tests processed were found to be positive, Ferrer said.

Officials are preparing for a third round of testing where they hope to be able to test children because they are not showing a lot of symptoms, the director noted.

About 92% of people who have died of COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions.

So far, 5,660 people who tested positive for the illness have needed hospitalization, representing 16% of all cases.

There are currently 1,742 people who are hospitalized, 26% of whom are in intensive care and 19% are on ventilators.

As of Thursday, 261 people experiencing homelessness have tested positive for coronavirus, the majority of whom were sheltered. Investigations are being conducted at 27 local homeless shelters due to the illness.

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