Warning that Los Angeles County is at a "critical juncture" in the coronavirus pandemic, with hospitalizations and community spread rising, health officials announced more than 60 deaths from COVID-19 today and warned that fatalities could continue rising in the coming weeks.
The county Department of Public Health announced 65 new coronavirus deaths, although three of those fatalities were announced Tuesday afternoon by health officials in Long Beach. The new deaths brought the countywide total to 3,642.
Public health director Barbara Ferrer said that despite the relatively high number of deaths reported today, the rolling seven-day average of daily fatalities has been trending downward in recent weeks. But she warned that the county's rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations could lead to a corresponding spike in deaths.
"We are ... at a very critical juncture in our pandemic," Ferrer said "We're entering a phase where we're seeing community spread and hospitalizations like we saw in late April and what we hoped would be the height of infection here in L.A. County. But ... our cases are rising, the rate of infection is increasing and the number of hospitalizations are up.
"And today we're even seeing a small increase in the number of deaths, although this is a data point that usually lags behind all others. Tragically we do expect that more of our loved ones and our neighbors may die of COVID-19 in the coming weeks with all of the increases we're seeing in hospitalizations."
Ferrer noted that 93% of people who have died from the virus had underlying health conditions. That figure has remained consisted throughout the pandemic. But she noted that the 7% of people who died and had no underlying health problems should serve as a warning.
When the numbers get as big as they are today, that 7% represents dozens and dozens of people who may have thought that they were at no risk for having serious illness and even dying from COVID-19, but unfortunately this virus can affect many, many different people."
The county announced 2,496 new confirmed cases of the virus Wednesday, pushing the overall total to 123,004. Ferrer noted that in June, the county was averaging about 1,300 new cases per day, but that average has risen to about 2,400, a sign of a "sharp increase in community transmission" of the virus.
Ferrer also reported that as of Wednesday, 2,004 people coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the county -- with that figure excluding Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.
The number of people hospitalized has been on a steady climb over the past month, and is now at one of its highest points of the pandemic. The increases last week prompted county officials to warn that local hospitals could become overwhelmed in a matter of two to three weeks.
But the county's health services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said Wednesday that while the number of patients is still rising, there has been a recent "leveling off" of daily admissions that has reduced that threat. But she warned the "numbers are still at an all-time high."
The seven-day average rate of people being tested who wind up being positive for the virus was 10.4% as of Wednesday -- a slight drop from Tuesday's figure of 11.6%, but above the 8.4% rate of one week ago.
Ghaly noted that all appointments for coronavirus tests in the county are fully booked for the rest of the week. She said the full bookings are the result of two factors -- the holiday weekend reduction in available appointments, which led to people scheduling tests later in the week; and an overall large increase in demand of people wanting to be tested.
She said the county is working to add more appointment times at existing test locations, and new sites will be opened over the next two to three weeks, particularly in areas with vulnerable populations.
If there was any good news provided by health officials, it was regarding the levels of compliance with health orders shown by restaurants over the holiday weekend. Ferrer said inspectors visited about 1,100 restaurants over the weekend, and the vast majority were in compliance with the latest health orders -- requiring only outdoor dining and mandating face coverings and physical distancing. In past weeks, inspectors found large numbers of violations at restaurants and bars.