Health Hollywood Local News West Hollywood

Coronavirus is now leading cause of death in L.A. County

LOS ANGELES — Nearly 70 more deaths from the coronavirus were reported in Los Angeles County April 23, and at an average of 44 daily fatalities over the past 12 days, it has become the county’s leading cause of death, dwarfing the flu and heart disease.

Barbara Ferrer, head of the county Department of Public Health, announced another 68 deaths, although that figure includes three fatalities that were reported by Long Beach, which has its own health agency. The new deaths pushed the countywide total to 797.

For the 716 deaths for which data is available, 37% were Latino, 28% white, 18% Asian and 15% black. Of all the deaths, 89% of the patients had underlying health conditions.

Ferrer also announced another 1,081 new cases of COVID-19, raising the countywide total to 17,508.

Ferrer said that since April 12, 535 people have died from the coronavirus, meaning 67% of all of the county’s fatalities have occurred in the past 12 days. That equates to an average of about 44 deaths per day, meaning the coronavirus “has now become the leading cause of death” in the county, she said.

“More people are dying each day from COVID-19 than from other diseases that we track and get information,” she said. “To put this in perspective, on average there are five people who die from flu each day during flu season. There are eight people who die from COPD (lung disease) and emphysema each day, and there are 31 people who pass away each day because of coronary heart disease. These are our leading causes of death across the county.”

With the death toll increasing rapidly in the past two weeks, Ferrer said the numbers “are a stark reminder for all of us of the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19,” and the need to maintain physical-distancing and other health orders — despite the relaxing of such rules in some jurisdictions and calls from some groups for California to follow suit.

“Across the county, the number of people in the last two months that have died from COVID-19 is greater than the number of people that died from influenza over the past eight months’ flu season, and this is true for the United States as a whole as well,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer also said the nice weather and growing calls from some people for a lifting of public health orders shouldn’t lull people into thinking they can flock to beaches.

“It’s very important even with the good weather that people do not congregate together outside,” she said. “So enjoy the outdoors alone or with other members of your household. And this means please take a walk, go for a jog or sit outside in your yard and allow your children to be outside and enjoy this beautiful weather.

“But you need to do it as a household and not to congregate in places and spaces that are beautiful but will defeat our need for us to keep our distance still.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier in the day said that 115 people in California had died from the disease over the past 24 hours, making it the deadliest day in the state for the coronavirus.

Included in the county’s more than 17,000 cases are 100 homeless people, the majority of them due to an outbreak that remains under investigation at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

Ferrer said the county is still awaiting some test results from the facility, but officials said earlier this week that at least 56 people had tested positive, and one staff member has died.

A total of 286 institutional settings — including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons — have had at least one case. Those institutions have accounted for a total of 3,343 cases, and 310 deaths, representing 39% of all coronavirus fatalities in the county.

The vast majority of those deaths were residents of skilled nursing facilities, where testing is being ramped up this week to include all residents and staff regardless of whether they are showing any symptoms.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced April 22 that testing will now be offered to all front-line workers — such as health care workers, grocery and pharmacy workers, firefighters and police officers — regardless of whether they were symptomatic. The 30-plus testing sites across the county had previously been restricted to people who were showing some type of symptoms.

Ferrer said more than 98,000 people have been tested to date across the county, with about 14% of them testing positive. She again encouraged people to get tested if they are showing symptoms, even if they might be afraid of learning the results.

“I know many people are scared of getting their results,” she said. “They’re worried that they won’t be able to manage if they’re found to be positive and need to isolate. But the county family is here to help you.”