Coronavirus is now leading cause of death in L.A. County, officials say

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By Ariella Plachta | Los Angeles Daily News | April 23, 2020

Over the past two weeks, county health officials reported the virus as 67% of total deaths , outpacing the flu, heart disease or emphysema.

Ahead of a few days of hot weather likely to tempt the public to venture outside, L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer called on residents to abide by stay-at-home orders and practice social distancing as week four of stay-at-home orders came to a close. Photo: Facebook video screenshot

The novel coronavirus has become the leading cause of death in Los Angeles County, officials announced on Thursday, April 23.

Over the past two weeks, county officials reported 535 deaths related to the illness — 67% of total reported deaths —  outpacing the usual leading causes of death, including influenza, heart disease and emphysema.

Officials reported 68 new COVID-19-linked deaths Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 797 people, 39% of which were linked to institutional settings like nursing and assisted living homes.

The mid-day report Thursday did not include updated numbers for Pasadena or Long Beach, cities that operate their own health departments. Pasadena reported 30 new cases, bringing its total to 293, one one new death, bringing its total to 29. No new deaths were reported in Long Beach, but another 29 residents tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the city’s total tally to 518 with 27 deaths.

Among the county deaths reported Wednesday, 51 were over the age of 65 and 40 of whom had preexisting conditions. Eleven were between 41 and 65, nine of whom had underlying health problems. And three people were between 18 and 40, two of which with underling conditions.

The reported number of new cases was 1,081, which brought to city’s total 17,508. But as recent antibody tests have determined, far more people — perhaps around 4% of the general population — could have already been infected, officials said.

Ahead of a few days of hot weather likely to tempt the public to venture outside, L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer called on residents to abide by stay-at-home orders and practice social distancing as week four of stay-at-home orders came to a close.

“These numbers are a stark reminder of all of us of the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Ferrer. “Across the county, the number of people that have died from COVID-19 is greater than the number of people that have died from influenza over the past eight months of flue season.”

Rekindling concern that the outbreak is taking a greater toll on underserved populations, 15 % of cases were reported as African Americans, who comprise 9 % of the county’s population. About 18% of cases were among Asians, who comprise about 14 percent of the county’s population. Latinos made up 28 % of confirmed cases (44 % of county population) and whites 26 % of cases (48 % of population).

Among those who tested positive were 100 people experiencing homelessness, county officials said.

Of 1,854 people currently hospitalized, 29% are in the ICU and 19% are on ventilators.

COVID-19 deaths of patients linked to such institutional facilities as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and jails continued to rise, now up to 310 people. Most lived at skilled nursing facilities, 26 of which reported 20 or more positive cases.

County officials also reported 112 total cases in jails, including 44 people incarcerated and 68 staff members. The L.A. County Sherriff’s office reported that 29 incarcerated individuals tested positive.

Ferrer said the county continued to work closely with facility operators. She said local efforts are being enhanced by a team with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will contain certain outbreaks and share best practices.

Nursing homes were also being provided this week with many more supplies of personal protective equipment, said Ferrer.

On Wednesday, county health officials expressed confidence that hospitals would not become overwhelmed by patients with severe cases of the coronavirus if the public continues adhering to social distancing and “safer-at-home” orders for the next three weeks.

According to new modeling, roughly 11% of LA County residents would be infected by August if current isolation measures continued. If measures were strengthened, just 5% of residents would contract the virus. And without stay-at-home orders, 96% of residents would become infected.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, who heads the county’s Department of Health Services, said the maintenance of social distancing was still deemed the best tool to fight outbreaks, given that treatments and a vaccine remain some time off.

She said the rate of hospitalizations was expected to hover around 1,500 until mid-May and the number of ICU patients is expected to remain stable at around 600. Four hundred ventilators are expected to remain available, despite fears they would be in desperately short supply.

Ferrer conceded Wednesday that health officials what health officials first knew about the virus has changed — both about its high rates of spread among asymptomatic people and how prevalent it is in the general population.

Ferrer also said health officials may have been wrong about when the virus initially started its spread in Los Angeles. In January, she said, the coronavirus was suspected of having already arrived in the U.S. but they did not have the diagnostic ability to know for certain.

“In January we were all suspicious that we weren’t seeing cases that were not diagnosed,” Ferrer said. “In hindsight, we maybe should have looked more closely at deaths. But hindsight is 20-20.”