L.A. County reports 55 more people have died from COVID-19, marking another single-day high in deaths

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Los Angeles County health officials reported Thursday that another 55 COVID-19 patients have died, marking the third day in a row the county has seen a single-day high in fatalities.

California also saw a single-day peak in the statewide death toll as of Wednesday night, when 101 new deaths were reported that day for a total of 889 fatalities, according to the Los Angeles Times tracker, which reports data from health providers sooner than public officials.

Stay-at-home orders have been widely credited with helping to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state but the rising numbers signal the fight is far from over.

In total, 455 people have died from the virus in L.A. County and 10,854 people have tested positive — including another 399 infections reported Thursday alone, health officials said.

At least 70,000 people have been tested across the county.

The total number of infections appears to be leveling out, essentially flattening the curve, even as the death toll continues to climb at a more rapid rate in recent days, according to L.A. County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer. She said that could be due to patients dying several days after being hospitalized, creating a lag in reported fatalities seen in other hot spots like New York City.

L.A. County’s mortality rate rose from 3.8% to 4.2% between Wednesday and Thursday, Ferrer said during the county’s daily briefing Thursday.

The number of deaths across the U.S. has been multiplying in recent days. According to the New York Times database, deaths have exceeded 2,000 on three different days of the past week.

On Wednesday, the number of people who died from the virus in L.A. County was nearly 49% of all fatalities recorded in California, according to data from public health officials. To put that in perspective, the county holds just 25.5% of the state population, according to Census projections.

As L.A. remains the epicenter of the outbreak in California, Mayor Eric Garcetti told CNN the city will likely not host large public gatherings — from concerts to Dodgers games — until 2021.

Dozens of COVID-19 infections have been tied to facilities such as jails, prisons, shelters, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other so-called institutional settings.

More than a third of all virus-related deaths in L.A. County have been tied to such facilities, Ferrer said. In response, she said, the health department has been adding more personnel to inspection teams visiting nursing homes and other facilities where cases are reported.

A total of 209 such facilities are under investigation due to COVID-19 cases, she said, and they have been tied to 158 deaths. Ferrer said those are concerning numbers that continue to grow.

There are 71 infections that have been tied to jail facilities in particular, including 15 inmates and 56 staff members, and 50 cases among the state prison population of inmates and employees including 39 inmates and 11 staff, according to Ferrer.

One of the staff members at a federal prison died of COVID-19, Ferrer said.

And the number of cases among first responders and law enforcement continues to grow — 38 members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have tested positive at some point and 17 in the county’s fire department have been infected, according to Ferrer.

As for the nursing homes tied to several cases and sometimes deaths, Ferrer did not say whether any would face citations or other sorts of penalties for potential violations.

Prior to COVID-19 infections being reported, she said, inspectors with the department visited 380 such facilities to evaluate their infection control measures and make sure they have enough room to quarantine residents if necessary.

The health director said at least six shelters have been tied to seven cases of the virus among the homeless population. She said a total of 33 people believed to be homeless have tested positive.

Out of the 390 deaths in L.A. County where race and ethnicity are available, 16% are African American, Ferrer noted. Officials are working to tackle the “disproportionate” number of African Americans who have contracted the virus by ensuring testing and reliable information is available, the director said without elaborating.

While infections appear to be growing at a lesser rate than in past weeks, Garcetti told CNN the city will not reopen until more widely available testing or a vaccine is available.

Residents in L.A. County and throughout the state mostly remain quarantined inside their homes with the exception of medical workers, grocery store employees and others in so-called essential industries while hospitals continue to prepare for more infected patients.

FEMA assistance such as the USNS Mercy hospital ship docked at the Port of L.A. have been provided to help the region build up the amount of hospital beds and crucial supplies.

Despite such efforts, medical workers in the L.A. area — much like in other parts of the country — have protested against a lack of N95 masks as emergency rooms grapple with more and more infected patients.

In Santa Monica, a union told the Associated Press that 10 nurses were suspended from Providence Saint John’s Health Center after demanding N95 masks which the hospital said weren’t necessary. The facility said in a statement to KTLA that surgical masks provide adequate protection.

However, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both indicated N95 masks should be reserved for medical professionals — advising against their use by the general public since they are “critical” to the protection of such workers.

Also on Thursday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said her office has conducted risk assessments for about 3,500 inmates to determine who can be safely released back into the community in order to ease crowding in jails. “However, I refuse to put your safety at risk,” she said.

Lacey added that while her office is working to reduce traffic in courts, attorneys will continue to prosecute domestic violence and child abuses cases. “But we have seen a decrease in reporting of these crimes,” reflecting what Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said earlier this week.

“These crimes don’t stop just because we’re in a public health emergency,” Lacey said.

“If you’re being physically, emotionally, financially abused, report crimes to law enforcement,” the DA said. “We will be there to help you,” she noted.

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