LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County health officials warned Wednesday that another "Safer-at-Home" order was not off the table, adding that the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations could lead to a spike in the number of deaths in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday, the county reported 2,758 new coronavirus cases and 44 additional deaths, bringing the totals to 143,009 cases and 3,932 deaths, while the volume of people hospitalized due to the virus reached its highest point of the pandemic with 2,193.
The county reported a single-day record number of coronavirus cases on Tuesday, 4,244. The 7-day average of daily new cases has more than doubled since the beginning of June, according to Public Health, from 1,452 to 2,859.
County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer referred to the increase in numbers as "troubling" and "distressing." She said that another stay-at-home order is still "on the table."
"Do we want to go back to another safer-at-home order? Absolutely not,” Ferrer said. "But we have to do everything we can to protect the healthcare system."
“What we do today impacts our lives in the days, weeks and months ahead,” stressed Ferrer. "We need to get back to flattening the curve. We did it before, and we can do it again."
Some officials have attributed the rise in overall cases to increases in testing, but county officials said repeatedly that the metrics clearly demonstrate an increase in community spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis stressed to the public that being young does not shield a person from COVID-19, stating that individuals between the ages of 18 and 40 now make up 25% of those hospitalized. She reminded county residents that in-person gatherings remain prohibited.
Ferrer said that there are ways each individual person can help slow the spread of the virus, such as wearing a face-covering when you're around other people, avoiding crowds and washing your hands frequently to prevent passing along the infection or getting infected yourself.
“We all need to remember that we do get to play a role in preventing there from being spikes and infections… The truth of the matter is, this is actually a virus where we can do a lot to prevent the transmission of ourselves, as individual people and businesses can do a lot,” she said.
Ferrer said residents need to take the call to leave home only for essentials seriously.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the director of the county's Health Services Department, said Wednesday that the county plans to expand coronavirus testing capacity by 65% in coming weeks, with a focus on under-served "hot-spot" areas of infections, including Montebello, South Gate, Panorama City, Downey, Norwalk and Compton. Existing testing sites will also be expanding in areas such as Bellflower, Pomona, El Monte and East Los Angeles, according to the county.
The state health department on Tuesday released a four-tier priority system for testing. Those hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms top the list along with “close contacts” of those with confirmed infections.
Next in line are other people with symptoms and those living in high-risk facilities such as nursing homes, prisons and homeless shelters and health care and emergency service workers.
After that, the non-binding guidelines recommend testing for a wide variety of employees who have “frequent interactions with the public,” such as employees in retail stores, manufacturing, restaurants, markets and convenience stores; teachers; agricultural jobs, including food processing plants and slaughterhouses; and public transport, including airports and rail services.
The county modified its health officer order on Monday to align with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s rollback on California's reopening plan.
The order required the closure of the following sectors for all indoor operations:
• Gyms and fitness centers
• Places of worship
• Indoor protests
• Offices for non-critical infrastructure sectors
• Personal care services (including nail salons, massage parlors, and tattoo parlors)
• Hair salons and barbershops
• Indoor malls
Bars, indoor dining at restaurants, indoor museums, indoor operations at zoos and aquariums, and cardrooms and satellite wagering facilities remain closed and all events and gatherings remain prohibited.
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.
In LA County, approximately 93% of all residents who died from the virus had underlying health conditions. Ferrer said this emphasizes the county's need to protect those with underlying health conditions and urges those residents to stay at home as much as possible.
She said this includes, but is not limited to, individuals with asthma, those who have had cancer, anyone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and anyone who is immune-compromised.
"If you're part of one of these groups, you need to take every precaution imaginable to protect yourself from COVID-19," said Ferrer.
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.