LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County on Wednesday reported 1,318 new coronavirus cases and 66 more deaths, bringing the totals to 16,435 cases and 729 deaths.
Of the newly reported deaths, 48 were individuals over the age of 65, 38 of which had underlying health conditions. Thirteen individuals were between the ages of 41 and 65, nine of which had underlying health conditions. Two individuals with underlying health conditions who died were between the ages of 18 and 40. The data on the remaining three cases was not immediately available.
The county's Public Health director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, said that 89% of those who have died from COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions.
"This underscores the need for all of us to do the best job possible for those who are most at-risk," she said.
To date, more than 90,000 county residents have been tested for the virus, with approximately a 15% positive rate, according to Public Health.
The county's Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said that physical and social distancing needs to remain in effect for the time being in order for the county's hospitals to continue to meet the demand for COVID-19 patients.
When social distancing was implemented, the county's coronavirus curve began to flatten, but Ghaly says that trend needs to continue so that there isn't an influx in cases and subsequently, hospitalizations.
Ghaly said lifting "physical distancing measures very suddenly would negate and reverse all of that progress we've made to date."
She added that if physical distancing is reduced to the levels it was at before the county implemented its safer-at-home order, then approximately 96% of the county's residents will be infected by August 1.
County officials encouraged residents to "stay vigilant" in their social distancing practices as warmer weather approaches, reminding them that by staying home, they are in fact, saving lives.
"Don't go drive to other county's beaches," Ferrer said, as she explained that by doing so, residents are posing a risk of exposing themselves and other residents to asymptomatic individuals, who can still unknowingly spread the deadly virus.
On Monday, Public Health and researchers at the University of Southern California released their initial findings from an antibody study, which suggests that hundreds of thousands of LA County residents may have been infected with the coronavirus by early April, far outpacing the number of officially confirmed cases.
Those residents are likely unknowingly infected with the illness and not showing any symptoms, but are still capable of spreading it to others, Ferrer said. Adding that based on the data, the county's social-distancing requirements need to remain in place.
The study's initial findings also suggest that the county's mortality rate is much lower than county officials believed since the rate of mortality has been calculated using the number of confirmed county cases, rather than the number of potentially infected individuals in the county.
Public Health continues to stress to 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.
On April 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would be recommending people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
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.
On April 10, the county extended its "safer-at-home" order until May 15. The health order now requires all residents in Los Angeles County to wear a face-covering when entering an essential business. It also requires all essential business employees to wear a face-covering if their work involves interacting with others.
This comes as more evidence is emerging that coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms. Recently, 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.
In accordance with new guidelines from the CDC, Public Health said that anyone who begins to experience symptoms must contact those they were in contact with up to 48 hours prior to having symptoms in order for them to self-isolate.
Public Health requests that anyone who experiences any symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate for the 14-day quarantine period in order to help slow the spread.
According to the CDC, symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. 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.
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Public Health has issued the following guidance during this time of increased spread:
"If you are mildly sick, stay home for at least seven days or until 72 hours after being fever free, whichever is longer. Call your doctor if you are concerned and/or your symptoms worsen. Individuals who are elderly, have underlying health conditions or pregnant should consider contacting their providers earlier when they are sick."
Click here for a list of locations of confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.