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11 More Coronavirus Deaths in L.A. County; Homemade Masks Suggested

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The coronavirus death toll grew by 11 today in Los Angeles County, pushing the county's total to 65, while 513 more cases were confirmed -- and local health officials joined a growing movement by suggesting that people wear cloth masks when going out in public.

Nine of the 11 new deaths reported Wednesday were people over the age of 65, while one was between 18 and 40 and one was between 41 and 65. Nine of the 11 people had underlying health conditions, according to Barbara Ferrer, head of the county Department of Public Health.

With 513 new cases, Los Angeles County had a total of 3,518 total COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday. Ferrer confirmed that five of those cases involved homeless people -- a group that had been largely absent from the total until the past week. She said there are no reports of any deaths among the homeless.

According to Ferrer, 733 people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the county have been hospitalized at some point. On Wednesday, 341 people were hospitalized, and 76% of them have "no documented underlying health conditions."

"I want to stress that people in the hospital are dispersed among all age categories, and there are a significant number of people who are requiring hospital care who do not have underlying health conditions," Ferrer said, adding that the disease "does cause serious illness among people of all ages."

Ferrer said health officials are investigating coronavirus cases at 43 "institutional settings" -- such as nursing homes, skilled nursing centers, assisted living facilities, residential treatment programs, shelters, jails and prisons. She said there have been a total of 207 positive cases at those 43 facilities, and seven people have died.

She echoed new guidance that people with the virus can potentially spread it 48 hours before they show any symptoms, and said "there may be a benefit" for people to wear a mask when going out in public.

Ferrer stressed that residents should not be buying surgical or high-tech N95 masks that are desperately needed by health-care providers, but can instead use items such as scarves, bandannas or fabric.

"Please don't go out and try to get N95s. We need to protect that supply for our health care providers," Ferrer said.

She said people may benefit by wearing a "homemade" mask.

"What they do is they can prevent droplets from coming out of our mouths and potentially infecting others," she said. "Remember this is a disease that's spread with respiratory droplets. Sometimes when you talk, some droplets can come out. If you wear that mask, especially now that we know you could be spreading even if you have no symptoms, you would reduce the number of droplets carrying a virus, potentially, from getting onto somebody else."

"But wearing a mask is not a shield, and it doesn't replace our request that you stay at home, that you always are practicing social
distancing, that you're using handwashing as your major means to make sure you're not infecting yourself after touching something or someone who may be infected, and that you're self-isolating and self-quarantined when it's appropriate.

"It's just another tool that we can add to our list of tools that are available to help us to prevent infecting others and help others from (infecting) us."

She said 79% of the county's cases are people between the ages of 18 and 65.

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County fire Chief Daryl Osby announced Tuesday that 10 members of his agency have tested positive for the coronavirus. Seven of them have recovered, but three more are in isolation, he said.

L.A. city officials reported that seven members of the Los Angeles Fire Department have tested positive for COVID-19, two of whom have recovered and returned to duty.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said seven members of his department have tested positive, and more than 100 others are under quarantine.

Additionally, there are 29 Los Angeles Police Department officers and five department civilian personnel who have contracted the coronavirus, one of whom is in critical condition, Chief Michel Moore told the Board of Police Commissioners Tuesday.

The others are recovering at home. The majority of the cases have been identified in officers working out of the LAPD's downtown and central locations, Moore said.

Since LAPD officers and employees started testing positive for COVID-19, about 75 additional officers have been tested, with about half coming back negative, Moore said. The rest are awaiting results.

The police department is taking extensive measures to clean its facilities, not just along frequently touched surfaces but in every crevice it can find in an attempt to eliminate the virus, Moore said.

Certain areas of the department's offices have been reconfigured in order to create better social distancing, Moore said.

Ferrer said the county is still seeing a roughly 1.8% mortality rate, meaning that of everyone who has tested positive for coronavirus in the county, 1.8% have died. Ferrer said last week the mortality rate in New York is about 1.4%

In addition to the five homeless people who have tested positive for coronavirus, two people who work in homeless facilities have also tested positive.

Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission on skid row, told reporters Tuesday that a mission employee had tested positive and is being treated at County-USC Medical Center. Bales told the paper 95 residents and some employees are quarantined on the mission's third floor, which houses a live-in recovery program.

As of Wednesday, more than 21,000 people in the county have been tested for the virus, with about 12% of them turning out to be positive for the illness.

Ferrer stressed that the availability of testing, while expanding, remains limited, meaning it should be restricted to people who are referred by physicians or are showing symptoms of the illness.

County officials said hospitals across the area are making plans for an anticipated surge in cases in the coming weeks.

The Los Angeles Convention Center has been set up as a federal field hospital, with California National Guard members helping to prepare the facility over the weekend.

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