LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County health officials reported on Saturday the largest one-day increase in deaths and new COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, with 28 more fatalities and 711 new cases added to the toll.
The county now has 5,277 confirmed cases of COVID-19 -- the diseased caused by the novel coronavirus -- and 117 deaths. "This is the most dramatic increase in deaths we have seen since the COVID-19 crisis began, and our condolences go out to each and every person impacted by these heartbreaking losses," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director.
"Though COVID-19 can infect people of all ages, most of the deaths we see continue to be among individuals over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions. Now, more than ever, we must unify as a community to protect this vulnerable population by making sure they are able to stay home and take every precaution. ... These are tough times, but we are a caring LA County, and we will get through this together."
Of the 28 deaths, 21 were people with underlying health conditions, and 17 were over the age of 65, according to Los Angeles County Public Health. Two of those over 65 who did not have underlying health conditions. Nine people who died were between the ages of 18 and 65.
The spike in numbers comes one day after Ferrer warned residents to brace for more staggering numerical increases in the coming weeks as testing capacity improves.
The number of cases across Los Angeles County grew by roughly 500 per day last week. But Ferrer said that as more testing comes online, the number of confirmed cases will likely jump to 1,000 daily by next week -- given that roughly 10% of people who are tested turn out to be positive, and the county expects to soon have the capacity to test 10,000 people a day.
"We want to be prepared for that," Ferrer said. "I think that it's very accurate that at some point next week we will start reporting that big an increase in the number of cases because thankfully we're able to actually test more people and make sure that people who are tested have the opportunity, if they are positive, to isolate themselves and not infect others and identify their close contacts, who will quarantine themselves and also not potentially infect others.
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"So this is what it means for all of us here in L.A. County: The next few weeks are going to be critically important because we are going to see more cases of people who are positive with COVID-19. But it's our hope that the rate increase continues to be manageable and that we don't overwhelm our healthcare system. And I think that in part depends on all of you."
Ferrer said the county has been testing about 7,000 people a day and noted there is often a long wait for results to come in.
The health department also said Saturday that "emerging evidence suggests that there may be a significant number of people infected with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic and capable of spreading the virus to others. New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us we need to use universal precautions all the time -- assuming that each of us can infect others even when we aren't sick and that others can infect us.
Along with physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and remaining home when ill, the CDC is recommending that the general public wear non-medical face coverings when interacting with others while obtaining essential supplies and services."
The ability of the virus to spread even before patients develop symptoms has led to increasing recommendations that residents wear some type of surgical mask or face covering when they go out in public.
Ferrer and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have both touted the benefits of covering their faces to prevent a spread of droplets that can spread the virus from falling on surfaces or on other people.
Officials continued to stress that residents should not purchase hospital-grade masks, which are in short supply and desperately needed in hospitals.
Ferrer said people can use scarves or other fabric, suggesting that people go online for instructions on how to fashion a homemade mask.
Ferrer again noted that wearing such a face-covering does not free people from the need to remain at home as much as possible and practice social-distancing and hand-washing.
Ferrer said 1,168 people were hospitalized due to coronavirus across the county. That number does not include the many people hospitalized in LongBeach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments. Of the county's confirmed cases, 2,641 were men and 2,277 were women, with 151 under investigation.