Coronavirus lab testing

Microbiologist extracts COVID-19 genetic material from patient samples in the Public Health Laboratory. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conducts Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 on March 19, 2020. 

More than two dozen new coronavirus deaths were reported in Los Angeles County today, pushing the total close to 200, while the overall number of cases topped 7,500 and the county's health director warned that stay-at-home and other protective orders will remain in effect for weeks to come.

"I want to thank so many of you for settling into routines that allow you stay home safely, maintain your physical distance from others, and now you've adopted wearing a cloth face covering when you must be out," public health director Barbara Ferrer said. "I know this is temporary. I know it's going to change and we will get back to many of our normal routines, but it will take significant time. And please understand that we have weeks to go before we're able to lift any of our health officer orders.

Ferrer reported 29 new deaths in the county, although three of them had been previously reported late Tuesday by Long Beach health officials. Long Beach announced one additional death Wednesday afternoon, raising that city's total deaths to seven.

The new deaths raised the county's overall death toll to 199.

Of the new deaths reported by the county Department of Public Health, 17 people were over age 65, with 16 of them having underlying health conditions. Seven of the county's deaths occurred in people between 18 and 40, and five of them had underlying health problems.

The new death reported by Long Beach was a man in his 80s with underlying health conditions.

7,559 Cases Reported Countywide

Another 620 coronavirus cases were confirmed in the county, Ferrer said, raising the overall total to 7,530. Long Beach subsequently reported another 29 cases, raising the city's total to 285 and the county's overall number to 7,559. Pasadena, which also has its own health department, has reported 80 cases and three deaths.

The mortality rate among coronavirus patients in the county continued to rise slowly, reaching 2.6% on Wednesday, Ferrer said. The figure means 2.6% of the people who have tested positive for the illness in the county have died. Last week, the mortality rate was 1.8%.

Jail & Prison Cases

The county's coronavirus cases include 43 cases that occurred in jail settings -- three inmates and 40 staff members -- along with 10 cases in the state prison system -- eight inmates and two staffers. Two cases have been reported in a county juvenile facility, both involving staff members at the Barry Nidorf juvenile hall in Sylmar.

Twelve cases have been confirmed among the county's homeless population, up from two on Tuesday. Four cases have been reported in homeless shelters, involving two residents and two staff members.

Nursing Home Cases

Ferrer said there are now 131 institutional settings -- such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons -- that have had at least one case. Those institutions have had a total of 596 cases and 37 deaths, all among residents.

Nursing homes in Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Highland Park and Silver Lake are among the skilled nursing centers with at least one case of coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, roughly 36,500 people have been tested for the virus in the county, although Ferrer noted that number is likely low, since multiple new testing sites have opened in recent days but figures have not yet been gathered from those new locations.

"When we report on the number of people who have been tested, there is a lag time. We are reporting on not only the number of people who have been tested but we're actually reporting on the number of people for whom we have test results," she said. "So the last few days, particularly across the county and the city of L.A., there has been a dramatic increase in testing sites and the availability of testing and our numbers will not reflect this for a few days because we won't have those test results back yet."

The county has set a goal of testing 10,000 people per day. With roughly 10% of those people ultimately testing positive, Ferrer has warned that the daily increases in case numbers will likely approach about 1,000.

New Testing Centers

New testing centers opened Wednesday at East Los Angeles College and at the Charles Drew University medical campus in Willowbrook. The county now has more than 20 testing centers across the region. Those centers and others operated by individual cities are restricted to people showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Ferrer noted that as of Wednesday, 324 health care workers have tested positive. More than half of them work in hospitals, but other cases have occurred at outpatient facilities and emergency medical services personnel. Nurses have had the largest number of cases, but doctors, paramedics and emergency medical technicians have also tested positive. Two health care workers in the county have died from the virus.

"For me the words `thank you' don't really convey the gratitude I feel to all of the front-line health-care workers," Ferrer said. "You're heroes and we appreciate your commitment to continuing to take excellent care of all of us while we know you're facing the impossible task of juggling care for your families while showing up every single day on the front lines."

Ferrer also issued a warning for people serving as caregivers for the disabled, saying they need to take extra care to avoid exposing their patients.

"If they have any symptoms of illness, they should stay home and an alternate caregiver should be sent to your home," Ferrer said. "Even if they don't show any signs of illness, caregivers should always wear disposable gloves and a face mask, and any time when their job requires close contact with you. You need to have all surfaces wiped down frequently, particularly those surfaces that you're both touching, and it's a good idea to also make sure you're wiping down any equipment regularly."

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.

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