Coronavirus testing site in Boyle Heights

The Boyle Heights coronavirus testing site is located next to Mariachi Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue.

While reporting some general progress in addressing racial disparities in the impact of the coronavirus, another five dozen deaths from COVID-19 were announced in Los Angeles County today.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer announced 61 deaths, but five of those fatalities were actually reported Tuesday by health officials in Long Beach. Long Beach added four more deaths Wednesday.

The new fatalities increased the county's overall death toll from the virus to 5,396.

The county Department of Public Health also announced 1,956 new cases -- which included about 100 positive results from a statewide reporting backlog and "a few hundred" from a large testing lab that provided delayed results from earlier in the week. Long Beach, meanwhile, reported another 83 cases.

The new cases lifted the total number since the start of the pandemic to 225,910.

Ferrer said 1,378 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Wednesday, a slight uptick from Tuesday. The number of hospitalizations has been trending downward in recent weeks, though health officials said the decline has leveled off in recent days. But the number is still well below the roughly 2,200 hospital patients seen in mid-July.

Ferrer walked through a series of statistics showing continued disparate impacts throughout the pandemic on Latino, Black and Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander residents, and also among lower-income residents.

She said recent numbers show that some progress is being made in closing the gap among ethnic groups, both in terms of new cases and deaths.

"All of this shows that we are slightly narrowing the gap for the populations that have really been the hardest hit," Ferrer said.

"... We do have a long way to go, as you've seen, to reduce and eliminate the gaps that we've seen in COVID-19 health outcomes. But as I've noted, we've started to see some progress," Ferrer said. "... I do think that testing and access to testing is one of the areas that I would estimate at this point has some responsibility for narrowing the gap because it allows people to be identified early on as being positive and they're able to isolate and their close contacts are able to quarantine, which reduces community transmission as well as then further reduces transmission that may happen at workplaces."

She also credited the work of business owners to ensure they are meeting health protocols. She noted that health inspectors have roughly tripled their workload from March to July, responding to complaints in addition to their normal business visits. And while those inspections have increased, businesses have generally shown increasing levels of compliance.

"Businesses do play a really important role in slowing the spread, and the actions and policies that are adhered to at a business site can have enormous impact on being able to the slow the spread both in our community and preventing outbreaks at worksites," she said.

County health services director Dr. Christina Ghaly said that as of Wednesday, the transmission rate of the disease -- or the average number of people a coronavirus patients infects with the virus -- stood at 0.92, below the goal of 1, but slightly above last week's average of 0.86.

"We will have to watch the data carefully over the next week to know if this small increase ... is in fact significant," Ghaly said. "... If the (rate) is and is able to remain less than one, that means the number of infections and cases will gradually decrease over time."

But with the rate remaining under one, Ghaly said the county should have adequate hospital space and ventilators over the coming weeks.

Ghaly also acknowledged that parents are anxious to have children return to in-person classes at schools, but said it is still too soon to reopen campuses.

"L.A. County is reporting ... that COVID-19 cases among children and young adults have crept up slightly, though the range in severity of cases varies widely from mild to severe," she said. "This should serve as a reminder to everybody that COVID can infect anyone. No one is not susceptible to this virus no matter what your age and regardless of whether or not you have underlying health conditions."

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