The total number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County has tripled in the past week, climbing to 1,465 after 257 more residents tested positive for COVID-19, health officials said Friday.
Five more deaths have also been reported —four men and a woman, all over the age of 60 — bringing the total to 26, according to Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
At a daily news briefing Friday, Ferrer noted that the percentage of people in the county who have died from the novel coronavirus is 1.8%.
That’s higher than hard-hit New York City, where the mortality rate is 1.4%, as well as the rest of the U.S.
But Ferrer cautioned that with testing capacity still limited in the nation’s largest county, that doesn’t necessarily mean L.A.’s mortality rate is higher than New York, where over 25,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus and more than 300 have died.
“They have a lot more testing capacity and therefore they’ve been able to identify many more people who are positive with COVID-19,” she said.
If only the people who are seriously ill are being tested, then those with mild symptoms are not being counted in the overall total, Ferrer explained.
The county’s limited amount of testing “would have an impact on whether or not this mortality rate actually reflects a reality,” she said.
Ferrer cited the number of tests conducted and the rate at which the county receives the results as a factor in why the number of reported illnesses declined significantly Friday from the previous day.
The total for the 48-hour period was 678.
In the past two weeks, about 10 to 11% of tests have come back positive.
Most of the people infected with the virus are still between the ages of 18 and 65, but the vast majority of those who are becoming severely ill are over the age of 60, according to health officials.
Roughly 317 patients have been hospitalized, about 22% of all cases.
With the region’s medical centers threatened to be inundated in the coming weeks by a potential crush of coronavirus patients, the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship with 1,000 beds, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles Friday morning.
It will not be treating people with coronavirus; instead, the ship is intended to help patients who are hospitalized with other maladies.
The concern of overwhelmed hospitals — a reality in places like New York and Italy — has prompted officials to resort to extreme measures to flatten the curve.
The county recently issued strict self-isolation and self-quarantine orders for anyone who has been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, in addition to the “safer at home” ordinance that went into effect late last week.
And while older people and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for developing complications from COVID-19, those who are younger and healthier shouldn’t be complacent in trying to mitigate the spread of the virus, officials warned.
“For those of you who are infected, you are the risk for everyone else in our county,” Ferrer said. “And if a lot of people who are relatively young are infected, then those very young people can in fact infect those people who are older and more vulnerable for serious illness and even death.”
On Thursday, she said that if 1,000 patients infected two others each, the county could be dealing with more than 1 million cases within a few weeks.
The virus will continue to spread rapidly unless people adhere to social distancing guidelines and stay as home as much as possible, officials have warned.
In an effort to further encourage social distancing, L.A. County will be closing all beaches, effective immediately.
“The crowds we saw at our beaches last weekend were unacceptable,” L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a news release on Friday. ” I understand that this is a huge sacrifice for everyone who enjoys going to our beaches. But we cannot risk another sunny weekend with crowds at the beach spreading this virus.”
The health order impacts all beaches, beach bathrooms, piers, promenades and beach bike paths.
The closure will remain in effect through April 19.