L.A. County reports record number of COVID-19 deaths, partly due to backlog in reporting

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Los Angeles County on Wednesday recorded its highest number of coronavirus deaths reported in one day, partly due to backlog in reporting from last week officials said.

Another 91 coronavirus fatalities were added to the county’s death toll Wednesday, a day after California again broke a new record for the most COVID-19-related deaths in one day — with 167 deaths reported statewide.

L.A. County also reported 4,825 new cases Wednesday, but officials said the high number is in part due to a backlog of around 2,000 positive test results from the state’s electronic lab reporting system that started last Thursday and went all the way through Sunday.

This brings the total number of coronavirus cases countywide to 183,383 with 4,516 deaths.

Despite the record number of deaths reported Wednesday, the county has been seeing a decrease in the average number of COVID-19 fatalities, with numbers on a “downward trajectory” since May, L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The health director said it’s “a positive sign for us,” but reminded residents that a potential increase in deaths may still come later since hospitalization rates remain high and deaths are a “lagging indicator.”

There are 2,045 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized in L.A. County, 28% of them in intensive care units and 17% on ventilators.

Hospitalization numbers spiked in mid-June and the county saw a record number of COVID-19 patients flood into hospitals, more than 2,000 hospitalized each day, but the numbers appear to have stopped climbing.  “Whether this is a trend that we’ll be able to sustain over the coming days and weeks remains to be seen,” Ferrer said.

The “very gradual downturn” in the number of new hospitalizations has current projections now predicting an “ongoing slight decline in cases over the next four weeks,” Department of Health Services director Christina Ghaly said.

“This is very good and encouraging news for the county, but it is encouraging only in the context that we recognize the continued need for caution in all of our behaviors,” Ghaly said.

But even as the death rates fall for all groups in the county, Latinos and those living in the poorest communities still have the highest rate of deaths, Ferrer said. 

“Our Black and brown neighbors, and those in our low-income communities, are bearing the brunt of this virus, both in terms of infections and deaths,” she said, explaining that 58 Latinos die of COVID-19 for every 100,000 in the population, a rate that is almost two and a half times the rate of death among white residents. 

In her Wednesday briefing, Ferrer stressed the need for compliance, containment, and collaboration as critical tools in containing the spread of a virus and avoiding a return to stringent stay-at-home orders.

“We’re up to this challenge,” she said.”We’ve bent the curve before. Now we’re armed with a lot more information about this virus.”

Since May, the majority of people testing positive for the virus have been between the ages of 18 and 49, and while COVID-19 deaths have been declining for older residents more susceptible to serious illness, Ferrer said L.A. County has had a significant number of young people dying of the virus.

Ferrer lambasted younger residents who have been gathering with friends without wearing face coverings.

“Evidence, after evidence, after evidence here in L.A. County, across the United States, across the world, that it’s this basic disregard for taking these simple precautions — which are all we’re really able to do right now — that results in unfortunately the high burden of illness that some people are living with,” she said.

She urged residents to continue wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and staying home if they think they may be infected.

COVID-19 hospitalizations among children of all ages has been increasing since April and they account for 2% of all L.A. County’s hospitalizations and represent 18% its confirmed coronavirus cases, Ferrer said.

As of Wednesday, there was a total of 16 children in the county who have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome, also known as PIMS, a disease tied to COVID-19 among children, according to Ferrer.

“Children are less likely to be infected with coronavirus and less likely to experience severe disease, when they become infected with COVID-19, but this doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is completely is a completely benign disease and children,” she said.

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