Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conducts Polymerase Chain Reaction

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conducts Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 on March 19, 2020.

The coronavirus continued its alarming spread across Los Angeles County, with more than 40 additional fatalities and 2,700 new cases confirmed today, and health officials said they would be dramatically expanding access to testing in hard-hit communities.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer said hospitalization numbers also continue to increase, with the county seeing its highest patient numbers of the pandemic.

"We are in an alarming and dangerous phase in this pandemic here in L.A. County and we're in this place along with 29 other counties across the state," Ferrer said. "These alarming trends reflect behaviors from three weeks ago, and it will take several weeks to see if our behavior now, including the rollback of previously opened sectors, slows the spread of the virus. What we do today impacts our lives in the weeks and the months ahead."

Ferrer announced another 44 deaths due to the coronavirus, although three of those fatalities were reported Tuesday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. The new deaths increased the countywide total to 3,932.

She also announced another 2,758 cases, lifting the overall case total since the start of the pandemic to 143,009.

More than 1.4 million people have been tested for the virus during the pandemic, with the overall rate of positive tests at 9%. The rolling average over the past seven days was slightly higher, at 9.8%.

Ferrer again noted that younger residents between 18 and 40 continue to represent a larger chunk of people testing positive for the virus and taking up hospital space -- a trend that began with Memorial Day weekend.

"Younger people between the ages of 18 and 40 are also being hospitalized at a significantly higher rate than we've seen before, and it continues to increase. It's almost at 30% now," Ferrer said.

Deaths Expected to Increase

She said the increases in hospitalizations have accelerated dramatically in recent weeks, putting pressure on the medical system and potentially threatening the availability of intensive-care unit beds if the trend does not reverse.

"This is also further evidence that we should probably expect to see an increase in deaths in the coming days and weeks,'' she said.

"What this really means for all of us is that we need to start and continue to take the steps that protect our health care infrastructure so hospitals are able to manage the growing number of people that need inpatient care," Ferrer said. "That is why it's so important to follow the public health directives, like staying home, avoiding close contact with people you don't live with and wearing your face covering at all times when you're out of your house."

She noted that the average number cases reported each day have roughly doubled since early June, providing further evidence of increased community transmission of the virus.

County to Expand Testing

Ferrer and county medical services director Dr. Christina Ghaly said the current case numbers continue to highlight the disproportionate impact of the virus in Black and Brown communities and in low-income areas, prompting the county to announce an expansion of testing in particularly hard-hit communities.

Ghaly said that over the next few weeks, the county will be expanding testing sites by 65%, "with the entirety of that expansion focused on areas of high need." She said new sites would be established in Montebello, South Gate, Azusa, Panorama City, Compton and Downey-Norwalk. Existing sites will also be expanded in Bellflower, Pomona, El Monte and East Los Angeles.

Health officials have been urgently calling for residents to return to stricter adherence to infection-control measures, including social-distancing, avoiding gatherings with people outside their own households and wearing face coverings when in public.

They declined to identify any exact trigger points that might lead to a return to the original "Safer At Home" order that called on residents to remain at home as much as possible, leaving only for essential errands, and that shuttered most businesses.

"If we do a really good job of implementing all of the tools we have at hand, we can get back to slowing the spread, and that makes it a lot less likely we will return to Safer At Home," Ferrer said.

She also stressed the need for business owners to ensure they are adhering to all safety protocols required for continued operations.

"We all share a common goal -- slow the spread by preventing employees, customers and visitors at any facilities in the county from transmitting the virus or becoming infected," Ferrer said. "Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and to their employees' families to provide a safe work environment that adheres to every single one of the health officer directives."

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