Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the L.A. County Department of Public Health

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, speaking during a coronavirus update.

COVID-19 deaths in Los Angeles County soared past the 1,100 mark today with roughly four dozen more fatalities reported, and the county's public health director stressed that young people can be just as susceptible to falling seriously ill or dying from the illness.

Today's updates by health officials also revealed a split between the city and county over their joint coronavirus testing program. While L.A Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that anyone -- regardless if they have symptoms or not -- could be tested at sites within the city limits, county public health officials today said that the county sites will still be limited primarily to people showing signs of illness.

"As of right now there is no scientific evidence that would clinically indicate a need to test low-risk asymptomatic individuals outside of certain scenarios, such as people who reside in institutions and congregate living situations," said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director,

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, announced 55 more deaths due to the coronavirus, although nine of those fatalities were reported Wednesday afternoon by Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.

The new deaths rose the overall county total to 1,111. Ferrer said three of the deaths reported today were among people aged 18-40, although two of those people had underlying health conditions.

"I want to note that although older people are more likely to pass away and have severe illness from COVID-19, every day for the last week-and-a- half I've reported on a number of people who have unfortunately lost their lives and been younger than 65," Ferrer said. "So I want to remind everybody, this virus really can cause devastating illness among people of all ages."

Of the 1,020 people who died for whom ethnic data was available, 38% were Latinx, 28% were white, 19% were Asian, 13% were black and 1% were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The figures continue to show a disparate impact of the illness on the black community, which represents only about 9% of the overall county population.

Ferrer also reported 733 new cases of the coronavirus in the county, raising the overall total to 23,182, although some of those cases were reported Wednesday by the Pasadena and Long Beach health departments.

The cases include 172 among the county's homeless population. Ferrer said Wednesday that three unsheltered homeless people have died from the virus.

She said the county is investigating confirmed or suspected cases at 307 institutional settings, including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons. 

There have been a total of 5,296 cases at such institutional settings, and 525 residents have died, representing 47% of all COVID-19 deaths in the county. The majority of people who have died in institutional settings lived in skilled nursing facilities, Ferrer said.

She said there have been 514 cases in federal prisons, the vast majority at the Terminal Island prison in San Pedro, where federal officials on Thursday confirmed the fourth death of an inmate. That inmate, 54-year-old Stephen Cino, had "long-term, pre-existing medical conditions," according to the Bureau of Prisons. He was serving a more than 20-year sentenced on a variety of drug convictions.

Ferrer noted that people with underlying health conditions are particularly susceptible to the virus, accounting for 92% of all COVID-19 deaths in the county. She said people with pre-existing health conditions should contact a health care provider at the first sign of illness.

She noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its list of symptoms of COVID-19 and now includes a cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and a new loss of taste or smell.

"Particularly if you have more than one of these symptoms or if these are symptoms that you don't usually experience, we ask that you connect quickly with your healthcare provider, and everyone should be on the lookout for these signs," she said.

Ghaly, the county's health services director, elaborated on why the county would not be following the city in making tests to anyone, even if they are asymptomatic or now showing any symptoms.

She said a person who has no symptoms but gets tested -- and tests negative -- should not get a false sense of security.

"A negative test for an asymptomatic person does not mean they can go back to life as normal," she said.

She noted that such people will still be subject to the county's social-distancing and stay-at-home mandates.

"I understand that testing can provide individuals with a sense of security, and that it can make people feel more comfortable knowing whether or not you are infected on a certain day," she said. "But I want to caution everyone on holding on too tightly to that security, because medically it is fleeting. A negative test one day does not mean that you wont get infected the next or the one after that."

She did say, however, that the county had expanded its testing to include certain asymptomatic populations, including health care workers, social service employees, grocery and utility workers and other essential workers. Anyone over age 65 or with underlying health conditions is also eligible for county testing.

Guidance

Public Health has issued the following guidance for people with mild illness during this time of increased spread:

Stay at home whenever possible and practice social distancing -- keep at least six-feet away from others when you leave your home.

 Wash your hands with soap and water as frequently as possible for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when water is not available. 

 The general public should wear non-medical face coverings when interacting with others while obtaining essential supplies and services.  You should not purchase hospital-grade masks, which are in short supply and desperately needed in hospitals. People can use scarves or other fabric, suggesting that people go online for instructions on how to fashion a homemade mask.

 If you are mildly sick, stay home for at least seven days and until 72 hours after being fever and symptom free. Call your doctor if you are concerned and/or your symptoms worsen. Individuals who are elderly, have underlying health conditions or pregnant should consider contacting their providers earlier when they are sick.

Additional things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your community are on the Public Health website.

Talk is Cheap, Gathering News is Not

Join the readers whose monthly sponsorships defray the costs of gathering news and storytelling. That includes covering a variety of bills — from web hosting to bookkeeping — as well as payments to writers and photographers who have been generous with their time and talent. Only $5.99 a month!

Load comments