LA County implements new health order to protect vulnerable residents

Due to a continued influx of coronavirus cases and deaths at nursing homes and other institutional settings, Los Angeles County on Friday announced a new health officer order intended to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 at those locations. 

The order applies to all "licensed congregate healthcare facilities" and is expected to help "protect vulnerable residents as well as all of the employees," the county's Public Health director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer said during Friday afternoon's press briefing. 

The order bars non-essential visitors to such facilities, allowing only essential workers to enter.

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"It suspends all communal dining and activities ... to make sure that there's ample distancing among the residents who reside there," Ferrer said. "Staff will be required to always wear surgical masks and to use personal protective equipment when it's appropriate. And residents will also need to wear surgical masks or cloth face coverings when they're outside of their personal room."

A total of 293 institutional settings -- including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons -- have had at least one confirmed case of COVID-19.

Those institutions have accounted for a total of 5,339 cases, and 365 deaths, representing 43% of all coronavirus fatalities in the county. The vast majority of those deaths were residents of skilled nursing facilities, where testing is being ramped up beginning Monday to include all residents and staff regardless of whether they are showing any symptoms.

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The increased testing of all nursing home residents and workers, regardless of symptoms, is being done in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles. Ferrer said facilities with the most severe outbreaks will be given top priority, but all of the homes will get the increased tests.

Nursing homes have been a concern since the outbreak began, given the close confines of the patients and staff. This week, members of the California National Guard were deployed to four nursing homes in the county to assist with operations, mainly due to a lack of adequate staffing as a result of the virus' spread.

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"We didn't request the National Guard, but we requested help," Ferrer said. "And the National Guard was great. We did ask the state to help us with staffing. The easiest thing for them to do was deploy the National Guard and we're extraordinarily grateful that they did. And they continue to provide us with support."

CNS contributed to this report.