LOS ANGELES - While insisting that death rates are continuing to decrease overall, Los Angeles County reported nearly 60 more fatalities due to the coronavirus Wednesday, along with more than 2,400 new confirmed cases.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer said the 2,428 new cases announced Wednesday included about 700 that were part of a backlog of testing results at the state due to a breakdown in the statewide electronic reporting system. That backlog dated back about two weeks and stalled results of about 300,000 tests statewide.
The new cases reported by the county, along with 73 announced by health officials in Long Beach, increased the cumulative countywide total of cases confirmed since the start of the pandemic to 214,270.
Ferrer announced another 58 coronavirus deaths, although one of those fatalities was announced Tuesday by Long Beach. That city added three more deaths Wednesday. The county's cumulative total of coronavirus fatalities was 5,112 as of Wednesday afternoon.
About 92% of people who have died from the illness had underlying health conditions, a percentage that has remained constant throughout the pandemic. Ferrer noted that while that percentage is high, it still means that 8% of people had no health issues and still died from the disease.
"This disease can be devastating whether you have underlying health conditions or you don't," she said.
Ferrer again noted that younger residents continue to represent the bulk of new coronavirus cases. She said residents aged 18 to 49 represent more than 60% of all new cases, and they "are driving infections in Los Angeles County at this time."
She said the 18-29 age group has "the highest case rate among all age groups" in the county.
Residents between 30 and 65 represent roughly half of all hospitalizations in the county, while those 18-29 are about 9% to 10% of hospital patients.
Ferrer said there have been 1,278 cases to date among the county's homeless population, along with 139 among staffers at homeless shelters or transitional housing facilities. There have been 31 deaths among the homeless.
Ferrer said the county has seen success in its efforts to control the spread of the virus among the homeless, a group she called traditionally "at much higher risk of poor health outcomes from just about every disease." She attributed the relatively low numbers of cases and deaths among the homeless to the work of various agencies, saying the county "could have seen a higher rate of devastation if we hadn't had collaboration from the beginning."
As of Wednesday, there were 1,538 people hospitalized in the county due to coronavirus, with 32% of them in intensive care units and 19% on ventilators.
"We continue to see a declining trend in daily hospitalizations," Ferrer said.
As recently as about two weeks ago, daily hospitalizations were above 2,000.
The drop in hospitalization numbers and death rates has led health officials to express optimism about the success of efforts to control the spread of the virus. But the virus is still widespread. Ferrer noted Wednesday that COVID-19 still presents too much of a risk for colleges and universities to resume in-person classes, with very limited exceptions.
"But that's only for students who are or will become part of the
essential workforce," she said. "And it's only for required activities that cannot be accomplished through virtual learning, this mostly is about labs and practicums. All other academic instruction must continue to be done via distance learning."
Health officials said the transmission rate of the illness has been dropping over the past two to three weeks, leading to the recent reduction in numbers of people hospitalized. Modeling by health officials showed as of Wednesday that about one of every eight county residents has been infected with the virus at some point, although many of those cases may have been asymptomatic, meaning the person never became ill or even aware of the infection.
Dr. Roger Lewis, director of demand-modeling for the county Department of Health Services, said current trends show that the county should have adequate hospital space for coronavirus cases over the next four weeks. He said that while the trends are all heading in the right direction, residents "must keep our practices up" to continue controlling the spread of the virus. He said there are still "many highly susceptible" residents in the county who could be easily infected and become seriously ill.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the list of symptoms of the virus. Congestion or runny nose, nausea, and diarrhea were added, joining the federal agency's list that already included fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell and sore throat.
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.
On June 18, the California Department of Public Health issued new guidelines mandating face coverings in most situations while indoors, but also outside when a person cannot maintain six feet of social distance.
There are exemptions that include children age two and younger because of the risk of suffocation, and for people with a variety of medical or psychological issues that make mask-wearing a hazard.
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.
Public Health continues to remind 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.
The county's health department says that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of widespread transmission, everyone should always wear a face-covering securely over their nose and mouth and keep six feet apart from others not in their household when out and about.
Health officials say coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms. In early April, 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.
Public Health says that the best protection against COVID-19 is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, self-isolate if you are sick, practice physical distancing and wear a clean face covering when in contact with others from outside your household.
Click here for a list of locations of confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.
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CNS contributed to this report.