Coronavirus is now the leading cause of death among LA County residents, public health says

Coronavirus is now the leading cause of death among Los Angeles County residents, health officials said Thursday as they reported 1,018 new cases and 68 more deaths, bringing the totals to 17,508 cases and 797 deaths.

Of the newly reported deaths, 51 were individuals over the age of 65, 40 of which had underlying health conditions. Eleven individuals were between the ages of 41 and 65, nine of which had underlying health conditions. Three individuals were between the ages of 18 and 40, two of which had underlying health conditions. The data on the remaining three cases was not immediately available.

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The county's Public Health director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, said that 89% of those who have died from COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions. 

Of those who have died where ethnicity and race data was available, 37% were Latinx, 28% white, 18% Asian and 15% black.

COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in L.A. County, Ferrer said, as she noted that on average, 44 people have died each day from the virus. She compared this to the average of five people who die a day from the flu each season, eight people a day from emphysema and 31 a day from heart disease.

To date, more than 98,000 county residents have been tested for the virus, with approximately a 14% positive rate, according to Public Health. 

County officials continued to encourage residents to "stay vigilant" in their social distancing practices as warmer weather approaches, reminding them that by staying home, they are in fact, saving lives.

RELATED: 'Don't go driving to other beaches': LA County Public Health urges residents to stay home

"Don't go drive to other county's beaches," Ferrer said Wednesday, as she explained that by doing so, residents are posing a risk of exposing themselves and other residents to asymptomatic individuals, who can still unknowingly spread the deadly virus.

"They’re able to infect you, and then you’ll bring that infection back to L.A. County,” she said. “And we absolutely don’t need that.”

Officials with the county said that science will guide their decisions on when they will begin to loosen restrictions on the public health order.

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information 

On Monday, Public Health and researchers at the University of Southern California released their initial findings from an antibody study, which suggests that hundreds of thousands of LA County residents may have been infected with the coronavirus by early April, far outpacing the number of officially confirmed cases.

Those residents are likely unknowingly infected with the illness and not showing any symptoms, but are still capable of spreading it to others, Ferrer said. Adding that based on the data, the county's social-distancing requirements need to remain in place.

The study's initial findings also suggest that the county's mortality rate is much lower than county officials believed since the rate of mortality has been calculated using the number of confirmed county cases, rather than the number of potentially infected individuals in the county.

Public Health continues to stress to the public that while a majority of those who have died from COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions, not everyone does. Residents are urged to continue to take the necessary precautions in order to protect themselves from the virus.

Health officials say that social distancing remains our best defense against the virus, and all residents are instructed to abide by current measures in place across the state. Social distancing is not only about preventing the illness itself, but rather, slowing the rate at which people get sick. 

On April 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would be recommending people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The use of face coverings is believed to help slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus, without knowing it, from transmitting it to others.

The face coverings can be made at home from common materials at low cost, and the CDC has instructions on how to make them listed on its website

RELATED: LA County extends safer-at-home order, business-closure orders to May 15

On April 10, the county extended its "safer-at-home" order until May 15. The health order now requires all residents in Los Angeles County to wear a face-covering when entering an essential business. It also requires all essential business employees to wear a face-covering if their work involves interacting with others.

RELATED: Face coverings required at L.A. County businesses

This comes as more evidence is emerging that coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms. Recently, the CDC changed how it was defining risk of infection for Americans, saying anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.

RELATED: Asymptomatic coronavirus cases appear to be on the rise in China, report says

In accordance with new guidelines from the CDC, Public Health said that anyone who begins to experience symptoms must contact those they were in contact with up to 48 hours prior to having symptoms in order for them to self-isolate.

Public Health requests that anyone who experiences any symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate for the 14-day quarantine period in order to help slow the spread.

According to the CDC, symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should call their healthcare provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care so that appropriate precautions can be taken.

RELATED:, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates. 

Public Health has issued the following guidance during this time of increased spread:

"If you are mildly sick, stay home for at least seven days or until 72 hours after being fever free, whichever is longer. 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."

Click here for a list of locations of confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.