One day ahead of loosened rules that will allow more retail businesses to open on a limited basis, Los Angeles County today confirmed four dozen more deaths due to COVID-19.
Local and state officials warned that failure to adhere to safety measures as the economy restarts could prompt a return to social restrictions.
"As we begin this journey of recovery, some of us will be going back to work, some of us will just be out and around more people. But that doesn't mean that we're now living in a post-COVID-19 world," said Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health. "As we're around one another more, it's a good idea to act as if anyone could be infected with COVID- 19 and you too could be infected at any point in time.
"... The virus has not changed. It can still spread easily and it can still result in serious illness and death," she said.
Ferrer made her comments as she announced 51 more deaths in the county due to the coronavirus, although two of those deaths were reported Wednesday afternoon by officials in Pasadena, which has its own health agency. Pasadena reported another two deaths today.
The new deaths brought the county's total to 1,420.
She also said there were 815 new cases of the virus in the county, raising the county's total to 29,427. Pasadena later added 15 more cases, while Long Beach, which also has its own health agency, reported 84 more cases, lifting the countywide total to 29,526.
More than half of the county's deaths, 51%, were residents of institutional settings in the county, the vast majority of them in skilled nursing facilities. Ferrer said the effort to control the spread of the virus in nursing homes is "one of our biggest priorities at the moment."
As those efforts continue, the county on Friday will relax the Safer At Home health restrictions that have been in place in response to the virus. The health order, largely mirroring one issued by the state, forced the closure of "non-essential" businesses and severely limited the operations of others, while also calling on residents to remain home as much as possible, and to wear face coverings when mingling with others or visiting grocery stores or other shops.
"As we reopen, it's likely, because more people are about, that there could be more spread of the infection," she said. "But we may not see information to tell us if this is happening for a few weeks. So we are gonna need to spend some time gathering information every day over many weeks to see what the impact is of having more and more people out and about in our community."
To drive the point home, Ferrer said that if just 1 million county residents -- 10% of the population -- who have been largely staying at home suddenly start circulating, as many as 50,000 of them likely are or will become infected, based on antibody testing that showed roughly 5% of the population is impacted by the virus. If just 5% of those people who get infected become seriously ill, that means 2,500 people will need to be hospitalized, in a system that on average has only 2,000 available beds daily.
"These numbers demonstrate that there is a lot at stake as we relax Safer at Home, and that reopening our county, even slowly, only works if we're all really committed to being careful," she said.
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.