LOS ANGELES - Even as health officials hail downward trends in coronavirus hospitalizations and fatalities, Los Angeles County crossed another grim milestone on Tuesday, passing the 5,000 mark in the number of deaths due to COVID-19.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer called it a "tragic milestone" to reach.
"This is heartbreaking and reminds us of the human toll of this pandemic," Ferrer said in a statement.
"Our hearts go out to the many families that have lost a loved one to this pandemic."
The county announced 63 fatalities Tuesday, raising the number of deaths in the county since the pandemic began to 5,057. Long Beach reported one additional death Tuesday, raising the countywide death toll to 5,058.
Ferrer noted that one of the new deaths reported Tuesday was a person under age 29.
"This is a reminder that the risk for all of us is real and that no matter how young you are, this virus can be deadly," she said.
"We must continue to adopt practices that slow the spread of this virus. This allows us to prevent these untimely deaths. Please practice physical distancing, wear a face covering, wash your hands and avoid gathering with people you don't live with."
The county also reported another 1,440 cases of the virus, noting that the figure is unusually low due to missing reports from one of the large testing labs.
The number also does not include cases that were caught in a backlog in the state's electronic reporting system. Long Beach added 331 new cases Tuesday, saying that figures do include some backlogged cases from the state.
The new cases increased the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 212,139.
According to the county Department of Public Health, there were 1,524 people hospitalized due to the virus as of Tuesday, the lowest level it has reached in weeks.
The dropping hospitalization numbers have prompted Ferrer and other health officials to express cautious optimism in recent days that the county was beginning to turn the corner in efforts to control the spread of the virus.
The county expects to receive updated data from the state in the coming days thanks to the resolution of the state's case-reporting backlog. That technological glitch stretched back about two weeks and affected the results of roughly 300,000 tests.
State officials said Monday the backlogged cases have all been tallied and will be reported this week to counties, which will need to process the numbers, potentially resulting in a sudden sharp uptick in cumulative case numbers.
But county officials have stressed that the backlog did not affect the reporting of hospitalized patients or deaths. Ferrer said Monday hospitalizations have been averaging about 1,600per day over the past week, down from 1,900 last week and more than 2,000 in July.
Deaths, meanwhile, have been averaging about 37 per day over the past week.
But she again stressed that the positive trends don't mean the pandemic is over or that people can let their guard down.
"This progress that we've made is essential as we continue building what we call our new normal this month so that we can get to a point where we're able to reopen our schools for in-person learning and more of our neighbors are able to get back to work," she said Monday.
"The new normal means that as individuals we're going to make some choices. And we have to make the best possible choices we can. This will mean continuing to avoid crowds, avoiding being physically close to people when we leave our homes, avoiding gatherings with people we don't live with and we have to continue to wear our face coverings."