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Coronavirus Deaths Top 200 in L.A. County, As Cases Inch Up Among Homeless

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 April 8 episode here.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With another two dozen fatalities, Los Angeles County's death toll from the coronavirus soared over the 200 mark today while case numbers pushed close to 8,000, and the virus slowly began having a greater impact among the homeless population.

Barbara Ferrer, head of the county public health department, reported another 25 deaths due to COVID-19 Wednesday, while Long Beach reported one more fatality, raising the countywide total to 224. Ferrer also confirmed 425 new cases in the county, while Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported another 16, giving the county an overall total of 7,971.

Disturbingly, the county's mortality rate -- the percentage of people with the illness who have died -- rose again to reach 2.8%, a full percentage point higher than it was a week ago. Ferrer said the rising percentage is concerning, but it could come down once more people are tested.

Also rising is the number of cases among the homeless, with 20 such cases reported, up from 12 on Wednesday. Most of those patients were living on the streets, Ferrer said, but officials are investigating four homeless people who are believed to have been living in shelters.

One of those patients was living at a shelter that was established by the city of Los Angeles at the Granada Hills Recreation Center, which underwent a deep cleaning after the case was confirmed. The shelter is one of several temporary housing sites set up at city recreation facilities in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading among the homeless.

Ferrer noted that while the cases involving four patients believed to have been living in shelters are under investigation, "a number of people at a couple of shelter sites" have been placed in quarantine and tested.

Ferrer also confirmed the death of a homeless-services worker -- identified earlier as an employee of the Union Rescue Mission on skid row in downtown Los Angeles. Mission President Andy Bales told the Los Angeles Times
the employee, who was formerly homeless and began working for the mission after completing a recovery program, died at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

The county's coronavirus cases now include 47 cases that occurred in jail settings -- six inmates and 41 staff members -- along with 11 cases in the state prison system -- eight inmates and three staffers. Two cases have been reported in a county juvenile facility, both involving staff members at the Barry Nidorf juvenile hall in Sylmar.

Ferrer said there are now 155 institutional settings -- such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities,
shelters, jails and prisons -- that have had at least one case. Those institutions have had a total of 716 cases and 51 deaths, all among residents.

As of Wednesday, roughly 38,300 people have been tested for the virus in the county, with about 15% turning out to be positive. Ferrer again noted that the percentage of positive cases is artificially high because some labs haven't reported numbers of negative tests.

The county has set a goal of testing 10,000 people per day. With roughly 10% of those people ultimately testing positive, Ferrer has warned that the daily increases in case numbers will likely approach about 1,000

She said new testing centers have opened almost every day this week across the county. But Ferrer again noted that testing has continued to be more prevalent in more affluent areas of the county. She earlier released partial
figures indicating that the black community has a higher mortality rate from the illness, but said there continues to be less access testing in lower-income communities.

In hopes of rectifying that issue, new testing centers opened Wednesday at East Los Angeles College and at the Charles Drew University medical campus in Willowbrook. The county now has more than 20 testing centers across the region. Those centers and others operated by individual cities are restricted to people showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Ferrer stressed the people who are tested because they are showing symptoms of coronavirus should assume they are positive and isolate themselves from others while awaiting their results.

"If you've been tested, and since the majority of people being tested are symptomatic, if you've been tested and you're waiting for your results, you have symptoms, you need to stay home and self-isolate while you're waiting for your test results," she said. "Please, please don't wait for a conformation that you're positive to begin your self-isolation. You actually need to self-isolate at the moment you started having symptoms. And this is particulary important because there's still a lag time from the time you're getting tested 'til the time you're getting your test results."

She also reminded parents that while residents are being urged to leave home only for essential purposes, their children's health-care appointments are definitely essential.

"I know that there are many preventive services for those of us who are adults that we will delay, but the one thing that should not be delayed during this time of staying home ... are making sure that newborn and well- child-care visits, especially those that require an immunization, are still happening,'' she said. "There should not be long delays in making sure that children are fully immunized. There's a lot of other diseases like whooping cough that are circulating and that can be prevented through immunization."

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