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Coronavirus Deaths Rise Again In L.A. County as More Businesses Open

Reporter Roundup is a collaboration between PBS SoCal/KCET and KPCC/LAist to bring you the biggest headlines M-F about COVID-19. Watch the May 13 episode here.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Another four dozen coronavirus deaths were reported in Los Angeles County today as more businesses were permitted to reopen with restricted operations, but health officials again warned that more open businesses means more public interaction and the threat of spiking COVID- 19 case numbers.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, also again stressed the lethal nature of the coronavirus, calling it vastly more deadly than the flu.

"Last year, 125 people died from influenza, and the year before, about 300 people died," Ferrer said. "On average, we lose about 250 lives to influenza every year, and you can understand why the mortality rate of COVID-19 is so worrisome, because it far exceeds what we're normally used to seeing with a virus or a communicable disease."

Ferrer reported 51 more deaths due to coronavirus Thursday, although four of those deaths were reported Wednesday afternoon by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. Long Beach on Thursday afternoon announced another two deaths.

The new deaths boosted the county's total to 1,711. About a month ago, COVID-19 was proclaimed the leading cause of death in Los Angeles County, topping the flu, lung disease and heart disease.

Ferrer also stressed that the coronavirus can be lethal to people of all age groups, particularly those with underlying health conditions. Of the people who have died in the county, 92% had underlying health conditions.

"Fully 40% of the people who have died are in fact 65 years of age or younger, which means that there are a lot of people with underlying health conditions in different age groups who ... become seriously ill from COVID-19 and also lose their lives, unfortunately," she said. "Now that many people will be out of their homes more as we're on our recovery journey, this means there's a likelihood more people can become infected, and that means more people can infect other people."

"So if you have a chronic health condition ... please take a moment to try to make sure that you will be able to continue to stay at home as much as possible." 

Ferrer announced 925 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, while Long Beach added another 63, lifting the overall county number to 35,392.

The number of people in the county who have died in institutional settings, primarily nursing homes, rose to 865 to now represent 51% of all deaths in the county.

The county on Wednesday announced a revised health order that allows all retail businesses in the county to reopen for curbside pickup only. Customers are not allowed to go into the businesses. Retailers located inside enclosed shopping malls are still barred from reopening.

Recreational facilities such as equestrian centers, tennis and pickleball courts and community gardens will reopen Friday, with restrictions including face coverings, social distancing and limits on visitors.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that all residents are now required to wear a cloth face covering when outside the home.

The city of Santa Monica issued a similar order Wednesday.

Ferrer said the county's health order is similar, although it falls short of requiring residents to wear face coverings at all time. The county order mandates face coverings if residents are outside of the home and in contact with other people who are not members of their own household. They are also required at grocery stores and other retailers, and anywhere that other people are gathered.

"If you are walking completely by yourself, there's no one around you, you do not need to keep your mask on," she said.

But she said residents should have a mask with them at all times, in case they encounter others while out in public.

"Any time you're out and there are people around, whether it be at a trailhead or a parking lot or on a sidewalk, you will need to wear your cloth face covering," she said.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director, said the county's Safer At Home health order that requires business closures, social distancing, face coverings and staying at home as much as possible, has dramatically reduced the virus' impact, even though case and death numbers continue to rise.

"If everyone across Los Angeles County had not honored the Safer At Home health officer order, then we would be in the midst of a public health disaster the likes of which none of us would like to be experiencing, and that would be difficult to imagine," she said.

But she warned of the danger of rapidly reopening all businesses and attempting to return to "normal" life.

"If we simply go back to work and life as it was before, because so many of us across the county are still susceptible to COVID-19, then we will experience a rapid increase in cases, and that will require drastic action that none of us want to revisit. The better question is what we can do to get back to work and get back to our lives in ways that still protect our families and our community," Ghaly said.

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