‘Tragic milestone’: L.A. County surpasses 5,000 COVID-19 deaths

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An ice cream vendor pushes his cart past shuttered stores during the coronavirus pandemic in Los Angeles on July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

An ice cream vendor pushes his cart past shuttered stores during the coronavirus pandemic in Los Angeles on July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles County surpassed 5,000 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, marking a “tragic milestone” as residents continued the monthslong battle to stem the spread of the virus, officials said.

“More than 5,000 of our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers have died because of COVID-19. This is heartbreaking and reminds us of the human toll of this pandemic,” Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a written statement.

Another 63 deaths and 1,440 new coronavirus cases were recorded Tuesday, bringing the countywide case total to 211,808 with 5,057 deaths.

Of the most-recently recorded deaths, one person was a young adult under the age of 29.

“This is a reminder that the risk for all of us is real and that no matter how young you are, this virus can be deadly,” Ferrer said.

While the county was home to nearly half of all Californians who died of COVID-19, county health officials said there has been progress and the average number of daily deaths attributed to the respiratory illness have begun declining.

The county averaged about 41 daily COVID-19 deaths for several days towards the end of July, but the daily average is now at 31 deaths for the start of August. 

Ferrer on Monday said the decline can be attributed to efforts to slow the spread of the virus at nursing facilities, which were among the hardest hit as the pandemic first took hold in the county.

“This progress that we’ve made is essential, as we continue building what we call, our new normal,” the health director said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations — a key indicator of how the county is doing in slowing transmissions — have also seen a decline, with the average daily hospitalizations for the illness going from 2,200 in mid-July to 1,600 in the beginning of August.

On Tuesday, there were 1,524 people hospitalized for COVID-19 across hospitals in the county, 32% of them in intensive care units.

The new numbers reported Tuesday have case results missing from a large lab and don’t include the backlog of cases from the state’s lab reporting system, which experienced a technical issue that resulted in an undercount of the county’s cases.

“The State indicated that a backlog of lab reports for L.A County from the State electronic laboratory system (ELR) should be reconciled this week,” the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a news release.

Ferrer urged residents to adhere to public safety orders to slow the spread of this virus, including practicing physical distancing, wearing face coverings and avoiding gatherings.

While 92% of the L.A. County residents who died from COVID-19 had underlying health conditions, officials have repeatedly stressed that everyone should be wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings since healthier and younger people could unknowingly carry the virus to older loved ones who could get seriously ill.

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