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County coronavirus death count surpasses 400

LOS ANGELES — The number of coronavirus deaths in Los Angeles County officially topped 400 April 15, while nearly 500 new cases were reported and the county’s public health director warned that everyday life will look dramatically different even when stay-at-home orders are eventually lifted.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, reported 42 new deaths from the virus, although that figure included some fatalities that were actually reported April 14 by officials in Long Beach and Pasadena, both of which have their own health departments.

The 42 deaths, however, lifted the official countywide total to 402. That number quickly rose to 403 when Long Beach reported one more death, bringing that city’s total to 18.

Of the 330 fatalities for which ethnic data are available, 34% were Latino, 31% white, 17% Asian and 15% black. The county’s overall mortality rate — the percentage of people diagnosed with coronavirus who died — held steady at 3.8%.

Ferrer noted that one of the new deaths was someone between 18 and 40 years old, “a reminder that while mortality rates are higher for people who are older and who have underlying health conditions, people of all ages can in fact pass away from COVID-19.”

Ferrer reported 472 new cases of COVID-19 in the county, although some of those cases were also reported Tuesday by Long Beach and Pasadena. The new cases pushed the countywide total to 10,496.

Included in those cases are 28 homeless people, six of whom were residing in area shelters, prompting them to be isolated and others who had contact with them to be placed in quarantine.

A total of 133 residents of nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities have died from the coronavirus, representing 33% of all deaths in the county. The county is investigating cases at 205 “institutional settings,” such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons, that have had at least one case. Those institutions have had a total of 1,764 cases.

A total of 70 cases have been confirmed in the jail facilities in the county — 15 inmates and 55 staff members. There were also 34 cases in prisons, involving 23 inmates and 11 staffers, while four staff members at county juvenile facilities have tested positive, Ferrer said.

As of April 14, more than 67,000 people have been tested in Los Angeles County, with about 11% testing positive.

Ferrer reported there have been 787 cases of the virus reported among health care workers, roughly one-third of them being nurses, while about 9% are doctors. She said three people have died, two who worked in hospitals and one correctional health worker.

Of the cases among health-care workers, 43% occurred among hospital workers, 19% in skilled nursing facilities and 12% in outpatient facilities.

Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Ferrer this week discussed benchmarks that are being scrutinized to determine when stay-at-home and business-closure orders might be lifted. Although those orders are likely to remain in place for weeks, Ferrer noted that when they are lifted, it does not mean life will immediately return to normal.

“We will continue to need physical distancing requirements and directives for many months to come,” she said.

Ferrer gave a series of examples of changes people may see, such as continuing limits on the number of people permitted inside stores, limited attendance at cultural exhibits or events, one-way trails and hiking paths, temperature-taking at entrances to some facilities and hand-washing and sanitation stations in public places.

“Our goal is to get as many people back to work as possible, but we also need to make sure we do this in a way that protects all employees, employers and customers,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said four areas that will be considered by county health officials before relaxing stay-at-home and business-closure orders are:

• Ensuring the county has adequate health care services available for the sick while also ensuring resources for preventive care such as immunizations and dental services, and also ensuring health care workers have needed personal protective equipment.

• Ensuring resources are available to adequately protect the most vulnerable populations from coronavirus, such as the elderly, people in nursing homes and people with underlying health conditions.

• Expanding the availability of coronavirus testing, and also providing space for people to safely quarantine or isolate from others, particularly if people under such orders are unable to do so in their own homes.• And ensuring that when businesses are allowed to reopen as the pandemic recedes, they have plans in place to continue maintaining social distancing to prevent a new spike in cases.

Independent Wire Services