Coronavirus cases in L.A. County top 3,500, as death toll rises to 65

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Coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County are now up to 3,518 and the death toll has risen to 65, officials announced Wednesday.

Of the eleven additional deaths reported Wednesday, nine were over 65, seven of which had underlying conditions. One of the people who died, one was between 18 and 40, while the other was between 41 and 65, officials said. The two younger people who died were among those who had underlying conditions.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said during a news briefing Wednesday that 88% of people who tested positive and died had underlying conditions.

Over 1,000 new cases were reported within 48 hours, Ferrer said. She noted that five people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are homeless.

As of Tuesday, 21,000 people have been tested in Los Angeles County, but Ferrer noted that might actually be an undercount, because some labs haven’t turned over all their data. About 12% to 13% of tests have been positive, but more negative reports are expected to bring that rate down, Ferrer said.

The director said that there has been a significant improvement in testing capacity, but it remains limited. She said those who believe they have symptoms need to go through their medical provider, who will determine if a test is merited.

Ferrer expects next week the county will be up to testing 10,000 patients a day, but she noted that officials still need to work on improving capacity to process those tests. She said that last week the average wait for results was five to six days. “ We need to get those numbers down,” the director said.

Overall, 733 patients have been hospitalized to date, or 21% of cases. Currently, 341 people are hospitalized, and 210 of them are 55 and older, Ferrer said. Just over 75% of those hospitalized have no documented underlying health conditions.

There are 43 institutions in Los Angeles County that have reported at least one case of coronavirus. As a result, there are 207 cases of COVID-19 in such facilities, 148 of which are among residents. Seven people who were living in four different institutions have died due to COVID-19, Ferrer said.

The health director emphasized that there are people who are infected but don’t show symptoms, and that there is evidence they can spread the virus.

“This means, however, even if you’re feeling fine and you’re around people who are feeling fine, you and the other person that you’re with could be infected, and you’re able to infect others, and others you’re with are able to infect you,” Ferrer said.

Should L.A. County residents wear masks?

On the issue of wearing masks while being out in public, Ferrer said new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected later this week.

She highlighted that it is most important that health care workers wear N95 and surgical masks depending on their job.

“There’s really no benefit at all for anybody in the public to need to go out and secure an N95 mask. They are in short supply,” Ferrer said. “They’re needed by health care workers desperately. … Please don’t go out and try to get N95s.”

She added that there may be a benefit from the use of homemade masks, scarfs or bandanas that can prevent droplets from coming out of your mouth and infecting others. Los Angeles County will update their guidance of masks once the CDC does, Ferrer said.

Preparing for a surge

Authorities continue to urge residents to heed social distancing requirements and stay home, even as temperatures rise outside.

A health officer in the Bay Area warned Tuesday that California faces 5,000 coronavirus deaths per week if the state’s stay-at-home policies are relaxed too early.

Across the U.S., 100,000 to 240,000 deaths are possible before the outbreak is over, according to projections from the White House.

All hospitals in Los Angeles County have open beds available ahead of an expected surge in coronavirus cases, Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county’s Department of Health Services, said Wednesday.

She said there are 1,438 beds open, including 242 ICU beds.

Ghaly said local officials are working with the state to determine the impact of a spike in cases in the future. She noted that a lack of quick turnaround in testing can complicate the ability to plan for beds, ventilators and other critical equipment.

She added that officials at county and private hospitals have opened beds by curbing elective surgeries and discharging patients for lower level care, and they’ve made sure staff is available.

As of Wednesday evening, there were 9,640 confirmed cases of coronavirus in California, with 207 deaths.

In the U.S., the total number of cases has reached 186,101, and 3,603 people have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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