Social distancing, face coverings at essential businesses the 'new normal' in LA County

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 19: A senior wears a face mask while shopping for groceries during special hours open to seniors and the disabled only at Northgate Gonzalez Market, a Hispanic specialty supermarket, on March 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, C (Getty Images)

Social distancing and wearing masks at essential businesses is “the new normal” in Los Angeles County, at least for the “foreseeable future,” the county's Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

County officials emphasized that even as they look to relax the "Safer-at-Home" order in the coming weeks, those regulations will remain in place, “for some time,” said the county’s Director of the Department of Health Services, Dr. Christina Ghaly.

“By working together, we save lives," said Ferrer.

In addition to offering free testing for all residents experiencing symptoms, county officials announced Thursday that COVID-19 testing would be expanded to include certain asymptomatic individuals, including essential workers, such as those who work in healthcare, first responders, social services, utility workers, food supply workers, anyone over the age of 65 or anyone who has a chronic underlying health condition. They will also be expanding testing to all residents in institutional settings.

While testing in the county was expanded, Ghaly emphasized that all residents, whether or not they've been tested, will need to continue to follow the public health orders currently in place.

“A negative test one day doesn’t mean you won’t get infected the next. The same public health orders will still apply to you,” she said. 

“What matters most is the continued personal protective measures — cloth face coverings, use of gloves when needed, hand-washing as well as physical distancing measures," said Ghaly. "This is what keeps you protected, the results of a test, even a negative one, will not change that."

“A negative test for an asymptomatic person does not mean they can go back to life as normal. For quite some time, we will broadly be asking everyone to adjust their public behavior, even as we look towards paring back the ‘Safer-at-Home’ order,” she added.

On Thursday, the county reported 733 new coronavirus cases and 55 additional deaths, bringing the county's totals to 23,182 cases and 1,111 deaths.

Of the newly reported deaths, 35 were individuals over the age of 65, 29 of which had underlying health conditions. Eight individuals were between the ages of 41 and 65, four of which had underlying health conditions. Three individuals were between the ages of 18 and 40, two of which had underlying health conditions. The data on the remaining cases was not immediately available.

Approximately 92% of all the county residents who died from the virus had underlying health conditions. The county's Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara 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 individuals with asthma, those who have had cancer, and anyone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“Although older people are more likely to pass away, every day for the last week and a half I’ve reported on a number of people who have lost their lives and are under the age of 65," said the county's Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

According to Public Health, 4,813 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 at some point required hospitalization during their battle with the illness. There are 1,962 individuals currently hospitalized in the county with the virus, Ferrer said.

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Testing capacity continues to increase in LA County, with testing results available for over 145,900 individuals and 14% of those people testing positive.

While LA County officials have not released data on the number of COVID-19 patients that have recovered from the virus within the county, John's Hopkins University reports that more than 125,000 patients have recovered nationwide.

On April 10, the county extended its "safer-at-home" order until May 15. The health order now requires all residents in LA 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.

RELATED: LA County outlines list of requirements that need to be met in order to relax Safer-At-Home order

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. 

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information 

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.

The face coverings can be made at home from common materials at low cost, and the CDC has instructions on how to make them listed on its website

RELATED: Face coverings required at L.A. County businesses

This comes as more evidence is emerging that coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms. Earlier this month, 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.

RELATED: Asymptomatic coronavirus cases appear to be on the rise in China, report says

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, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and a new loss of taste or smell. 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.

RELATED:, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates. 

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.