LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County reached a grim milestone Tuesday when it reported 1,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus, as health officials scramble to get a better understanding of the deadly disease.
The county reported an additional 59 deaths since the day prior, with 597 new confirmed cases, bringing the total number of cases to 20,976.
"LA County has hit the tragic milestone of 1,000 people dying from COVID-19. Please know that if you are grieving the loss of loved ones who have died from COVID-19, our thoughts and prayers are with you, your family, and your friends. We wish you healing and peace,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county's Public Health director.
Of the newly reported deaths, 36 people who died were over the age of 65 years old, 16 people who died were between the ages of 41 to 65 years old, and one person who died was between the ages of 18 and 40 years old. Forty-two people had underlying health conditions including 28 people over the age of 65 years old, 13 people between the ages of 41 to 65 years old, and one person between the ages of 18 and 40 years old.
As of Tuesday, 4,507 people who tested positive for COVID-19 (21% of positive cases) had to be hospitalized at some point during their illness. Testing capacity continues to increase in LA County, with testing results available for over 133,000 individuals and 14% of 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 115,000 patients have recovered nationwide.
Ferrer told reporters during a virtual Q&A Tuesday that she is optimistic that relief from health orders prompted by the coronavirus pandemic could be just weeks away, saying she hopes the county will be able to consider lifting some restrictions in the middle of May.
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.
"I think we're all with the governor on this," Ferrer said. "... We know that we're headed into recovery. We're hoping that happens sometime in the middle of May, that's our best guess right now.''
But she said a decision to ease social-distancing and business-closure requirements will depend on multiple factors that have been previously identified, including hospital capacity, the expansion of testing and ensuring the ability to continue protecting the health of people more susceptible to the virus.
"We all have to work together. We have to partner with all of our businesses, with all of our residents to make sure as we start relaxing, we do so in a way that maximizes our ability to still do a lot of physical distancing," she said.
"... But I do share the governor's optimism. I think I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of the people in LA County who are staying home, who are doing their very best to protect themselves and their loved ones who are trying really hard to make sure they don't spread the infection," Ferrer added. "And because of that, I feel optimistic, come the middle of May, we too will be looking at the ability to relax some of the directives in the current health officer 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.
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.
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.
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.
RELATED: CoronavirusNOW.com, 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.
CNS contributed to this report.