LA officials urge residents to avoid shopping, stay indoors this week as coronavirus deaths rise

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to spike across Los Angeles County, health officials urged residents to stay home this week, to limit time spent outside their homes and to even avoid shopping if possible to slow the spread of the virus.

“If you have enough supplies in your home, this would be the week to skip shopping all together,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The urgent guidance comes as officials desperately try to slow the spread of coronavirus through unprecedented social distancing rules that closed most parks and beaches as well as non-essential businesses.

Los Angeles County officials on Monday confirmed 15 new coronavirus-linked deaths, bringing the county’s total to 147, and said the county’s mortality rate had crept up.

Ferrer announced 420 new coronavirus cases in the county, bringing the total to at least 6,360. Twelve of the new deaths were among people over the age of 65, and seven of those had underlying health conditions. Three individuals were between the ages of 41 and 65.

With the additional deaths, the mortality rate in L.A. County has increased to 2.3%, Ferrer said, up from 1.8% a week ago.

Roughly 32,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in L.A. County, and about 14% of those individuals have tested positive. There are 900 people hospitalized, Ferrer said.

Officials are investigating 109 institutional settings where there has been at least one coronavirus case, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, shelters, treatment centers and supported living correctional facilities. There are 512 cases in such spaces, Ferrer said, with about half of those among residents and the rest among staff.

Like other officials in California, Ferrer advised people to wear face masks when in public, but she cautioned that the masks do not necessarily keep individuals from becoming ill. Instead, they can prevent the spread of the virus from those who may be infected.

L.A County’s Dr. Christina Ghaly said this week is critical in understanding the trajectory of the virus. While modeling can’t predict an exact peak, she said that an analysis of the numbers can help officials anticipate what may come.

Across the state, the total number of confirmed cases has topped 15,000 and the number of deaths surpassed 350.

Fifty-three of California’s 58 counties have been affected by the virus. The toll has been particularly somber in Los Angeles County, which reported 28 deaths Saturday, the largest one-day increase since the coronavirus pandemic began. Los Angeles County on Sunday announced 15 additional deaths, raising the total to more than 130.

“We have some very difficult days ahead, and now is the time for all of us to redouble our physical distancing efforts and look after our neighbors, friends and families who may be at the highest risk for serious illness from COVID-19,” Ferrer said in a statement.

Orange County also continues to see a rapid rise in confirmed coronavirus infections, as its total case count hit 882 Monday — up more than 400 from a week ago. The county’s death toll remained at 14 in the latest update. Eight people who died were at least 65 years old, and three were between the ages of 45 and 64.

The county also reported that 137 people were hospitalized — the most to date. Of those, 56 were in intensive care, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Sacramento County reported two more deaths Monday morning, bringing the total there to 18.

As the death count in the U.S. surpassed 10,000, according to figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University, counties across California continue to see dramatic increases in people hospitalized with the virus, with more than 2,300 patients in the state. An additional 3,267 people hospitalized are suspected of having coronavirus but are awaiting test results.

According to a White House official, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has earmarked $894.7 million for California, including $501 million in COVID-19 reimbursement.

As of April 2, the federal government has provided a variety of medical supplies to the state, including more than 830,000 N95 masks, nearly 2 million surgical masks, 1.3 million gloves and roughly 2,000 medical beds. Los Angeles alone has received 170 ventilators and more than 249,000 N95 masks.

Additionally, FEMA sold 105 travel trailers to California for a COVID-19 housing initiative. As the state works to increase hospital capacity by up to 50,000 beds, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has assessed eight facilities to house beds.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that California is redeploying ventilators back into the national stockpile while the state awaits more. He thinks it’s ethically responsible for the state to provide resources in real time to those most in need.

“If we need them back in a few weeks, we’ll get them back,” he said.

Newsom said the state will receive about 500 more ventilators as early as Tuesday. Meanwhile, Santa Clara County is asking for access to more of the breathing machines.

Newsom said that among California’s COVID-19 patients, 2,509 have been hospitalized and 1,085 are in intensive care.

So far, hospitals have not been overwhelmed by patients. And California officials believe strict social distancing measures are already helping the state when compared with coronavirus hot spots such as New York, where thousands have died.

However, Ferrer said Friday that Los Angeles County should expect to see 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day in the coming weeks.

Whether the increase remains manageable, Ferrer said, depends on how well residents adhere to guidelines that they wash their hands frequently, stay home as much as possible, remain 6 feet away from others after leaving the house and avoid going out entirely if they are over the age of 65, feel sick or have underlying health conditions.

“The next few weeks are going to be critically important because we are going to see more cases of people who are positive with COVID-19, but it’s our hope that the rate of increase continues to be manageable and that we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system,” she said.

Officials are taking new steps to try to slow the spread.

Riverside County’s public health officer on Saturday ordered all residents to cover their faces when leaving home, marking a dramatic escalation by county officials in their attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser said despite previous pleas from county officials for residents to socially distance, cover their faces and stay home, “more and more” residents were getting infected with the virus, and “not everyone’s getting the message.”

“We change from saying that you should to saying that you must,” Kaiser said in a prepared statement published by the county.

Los Angeles prosecutors on Friday filed criminal charges against two smoke shops, a shoe store and a discount electronics retailer, accusing them of refusing to shut down despite orders imposed to fight the coronavirus.

It marks the first time the city has filed charges for violations of the Safer at Home order, which requires businesses deemed nonessential to close their doors.

In another dramatic move aimed at slowing the rapid spread of the coronavirus, California judicial leaders are expected to adopt a statewide emergency order setting bail at zero for misdemeanor and lower-level felony offenses.

In a remote meeting Monday, the Judicial Council also is expected to vote to suspend evictions and foreclosures and to allow for the expansion of court hearings held by video or telephone.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye heads the council, the policymaking body for California’s court system. Newsom has given her and the council, which is primarily made up of judges, extraordinary temporary powers to suspend laws to deal with the health crisis.

For criminal and juvenile proceedings, including arraignments and preliminary examinations, the council will direct courts to prioritize the use of technology to meet legal deadlines and ensure that defendants and children are not held in custody without timely hearings, according to a report prepared for Monday’s meeting.

In criminal cases, the defendant must agree before a court hearing can be held remotely.


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