Los Angeles health and elected officials today warned that a recent uptick in transmission rates could result in a lack of sufficient ICU beds in coming weeks if it continues and again highlighted disparities in COVID-19 deaths among people of color.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the Department of Health Services, said the rate of transmission of COVID-19 has ticked up slightly.
"While we don't know precisely yet how reopening and the recovery activities will affect transmission of COVID-19, (the rate) does seem to be greater than (one-to-one) and slightly uptrending," Ghaly said.
In the next one to two weeks, if that trend holds, there should be enough general hospital capacity, but perhaps not enough ICU beds, she said.
"The number of ICU beds may become inadequate in two to four weeks based on the currently available number of beds," she said. "DHS ... is watching this availability of ICU beds very closely."
Ghaly said the rate of testing being done among residents of color is now proportionate based on the expansion of testing sites. She also announced that the county would be shifting from an oral test to a nasal swab. While the earlier test is effective, she said the new procedure should result in fewer false negatives.
She urged everyone to continue to follow guidance about wearing masks or face coverings in public, frequently washing hands and maintaining social distancing.
"There are ways to maintain (good public health) practices even as we reenter society and get people back to work," Ghaly said. "Please continue to do everything you can to follow these core public health practices. Your actions, my actions have an impact not just on our own health but the health of all of those around us ... We are all in this together."
Today's update from health officials showed that the countywide COVID-19 death toll rose by more than 30 to 2,567. Meanwhile, the total number of lab-confirmed cases that have been reported since the pandemic began increased by more than 1,400 to 61,068.
The higher number of cases in part reflects the wider availability of testing. The testing results allow health care workers to trace contacts and advise those who might otherwise spread the infection to self-isolate, said county public health director Barbara Ferrer. Only about 4.5% of those getting tested are testing positive, she said.
The percentage of those dying who had underlying health conditions remained high, at 94%, leading Ferrer to caution vulnerable residents to continue to stay home even as more businesses begin to open and to call a doctor at the first sign of symptoms.
The data available on race and ethnicity continued to reveal much higher rates of deaths among black residents and those living in poverty.
The death rate for Latino residents is 29 per 100,000 people, as compared with 31 per 100,000 people for black residents -- both much higher than the 15 per 100,000 white residents.
Asians die at a rate of 21 per 100,000, while the numbers for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders with COVID-19 are dying at a rate of 30 per 100,000 people.
"If the death rate for all groups were the same as it is for white residents, who have the lowest death rate, we would have 754 fewer deaths," Ferrer said.
Poverty also pays a significant role.
"We see that people who live in areas with high rates of poverty have almost four times the rate of death for COVID-19," Ferrer said.
She said the county is working hard to increase resources for these under-resourced communities, including expanding testing sites to 73 facilities across the county.
"The very real impact of the injustices plays out every day with the news I share with you and amplifies why racism is a public health issue," Ferrer said. "The disproportionately higher number of deaths from COVID-19 among black and brown people is an indication of the impact of racism and discrimination on health and well-being."
As largely peaceful protests against police brutality continued across the Southland, Ferrer again urged people participating in large gatherings of any kind to take steps to avoid infecting others and quarantine themselves if they believe they've been exposed.
Anyone who has been in close contact with people not wearing face coverings for at least 15 minutes should isolate themselves for 14 days, she said.
Protests aren't the only concern. Cases of coronavirus could also surge as more businesses reopen countywide, including in- restaurant dining and hair salons and barbershops.
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. You should not purchase hospital-grade masks. 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.