Coronavirus surges in LA with 5 new deaths; mortality rate is higher than New York’s

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — The coronavirus continued to surge in Los Angeles County, with officials reporting five more deaths, bringing the county’s total to 26.

The county reported an additional 257 cases, bringing the total to 1,481.

“These numbers that I report every day represent the lives of real people, and they are people that are mourned by their families and their friends,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The mortality rate in L.A. County is about 1.8%, which is higher than the mortality rate in New York City and the United States overall, Ferrer said. One factor in that is that Los Angeles County has tested far few people than New York, meaning it does not have as good a sense about the number of people with the virus.

In the latest effort to curb the spread of the virus, all L.A. County beaches were closed to the public effective immediately, County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Friday in a statement.

“The crowds we saw at our beaches last weekend were unacceptable,” Hahn said. “In order to save lives, beaches in L.A. County will be temporarily closed.”

The county’s public health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, signed a public health order shutting down the beaches Friday, Hahn said. The order also applies to beach bike paths, bathrooms, piers and promenades, she said.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s Mercy hospital ship arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday to assist with the expected surge in patients stricken by the coronavirus.

The ship, which has a capacity of 1,000 beds, will house patients who do not have COVID-19 in an attempt to free up regional hospital beds for those who do. Some patients who are already hospitalized in Los Angeles County will be transferred to the ship for ongoing treatment, port officials said Thursday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week that California will need 50,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, a significant increase from the 20,000 beds his administration had forecast last week. The Democratic governor said the state’s 416 hospitals were doubling so-called surge plans to 40% of their capacity, which includes providing 30,000 new beds across the system.

Newsom said last week that the state had asked the Department of Defense to deploy the Navy’s Mercy, as well as two mobile hospitals, to California.

That came as officials were faced with a major jump in both coronavirus deaths and cases in the state over the last two days and warned of significantly worsening conditions over the coming weeks.

The number of coronavirus cases in California topped 4,000, but that number is expected to skyrocket as testing expands. Eighty-five people have died.

The most recent deaths were reported in San Bernardino County, where the number of confirmed cases tripled this week to at least 55; in San Francisco, which had recorded 279 cases as of Friday morning; and in San Mateo County, which reported 239 cases.

Confirmed cases in Los Angeles County rose by more than 50% in a single day, topping 1,200 on Thursday. Nine new deaths were reported in the county, bringing the virus’s toll to 21.

Of the people in Los Angeles County who tested positive, 253 — or roughly 1 in 5 — were hospitalized at some point, Ferrer said Thursday.

If each person who has tested positive for the virus infected two others, Ferrer said, “within a few weeks, there could be over a million people that would be infected in L.A. County.” Los Angeles officials have ordered all those who have tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate, along with those in close contact with the infected.

“These are not numbers, these are neighbors,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “There is no projection in which a couple weeks from now, we’re doing fine. This will be tough.”

Garcetti and other officials said the next few weeks are going to be challenging.

“A week or two from now, we will have images like we’re seeing in New York here in Los Angeles.”

New York, the national epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, has had 385 deaths, more than four times as many as California. Hospitals there need thousands more ventilators to keep the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients breathing.

In California, an inspector who performed work for the Santa Clarita water agency tested positive for the coronavirus after entering 67 apartments in a townhome complex on March 12.

The person worked for WaterWise, a contractor for SCV Water’s water efficiency program, conducting inspections to install faucet aerators and water-efficient showerheads, and to determine the flush rate of toilets, SCV Water said in a news release.

The inspector began experiencing symptoms the evening of March 12 and began the process to get tested, then learned of the results this past Monday, the agency said. The inspector told SCV Water on Tuesday; the water agency consulted with the county Department of Public Health, and residents of the apartment building were informed beginning Thursday, the release said.

And a Long Beach Police officer tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, the department announced Friday. The officer was assigned to the West Patrol Division and was directed to self-isolate after receiving the test result. The officer’s partner was told to self-quarantine for 14 days, the police department said.

The city has deep-cleaned the West Division facility and some police cars, and has initiated a contact investigation to identify others who might have been exposed, the department said.

Long Beach had reported 70 cases of the virus, as of Friday morning.

Farther north, Silicon Valley could see a coronavirus-related death toll of 2,000 to 16,000 by the end of May, depending on how seriously people take the order to stay at home, according to projections presented at a San Jose City Council meeting this week.

The thinking behind the rough estimates illustrates why health and elected officials across California have sounded the alarm about the exponential rise in coronavirus cases reported since the beginning of March. Multiple officials in the state, including San Francisco’s director of public health, Dr. Grant Colfax, have warned about a surge in gravely ill coronavirus patients needing hospitalization in the next week or two.

“Even in the best-case scenario, we were looking at the order — in the next 12 weeks — of 2,000 potential deaths directly from COVID-19,” San Jose Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness said Tuesday of an estimate of the projected death toll for Santa Clara County, California’s sixth most populous county.

Harkness emphasized the projections he presented are rough and the county is working on a more detailed and robust estimate. “But given the urgency of the situation, we have decided to share (these) preliminary results with you and the public today, in order to derive the action that is needed to save lives.”

Nicholas Jewell, a biostatistics researcher at the University of California, Berkeley who has been tracking the pandemic, said COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout the U.S., at a rate quicker than or on par with countries hit the hardest.

While California continues to try to gain a clear picture of the outbreak, Jewell said, the expected surge does not mean physical distancing and stay-at-home orders aren’t working. There is still hope that the aggressive social distancing restrictions imposed across the state could make a difference.

“We knew going in we will not see any impact of shelter in place for at least two to three weeks,” he said. “We have to be patient at this point and stay the course.”


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