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COVID-19 Deaths Continue in L.A. County; Business Reopening Plans Expected

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 1 episode here.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Another two dozen deaths from COVID-19 were announced today in Los Angeles County even as plans moved forward to allow the reopening of some retail businesses, although it was not immediately clear how widespread those openings will be locally.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, announced 28 new deaths due to the coronavirus, although two of those deaths were previously reported by the city of Pasadena, which has its own health department.

The new deaths brought the county's total number of fatalities to 1,256. Roughly half of those deaths have occurred in institutional settings, primarily skilled nursing facilities.

As of Monday, institutional settings -- including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons -- accounted for 616 deaths in the county, with Ferrer saying the vast majority were residents of skilled nursing facilities.

Health officials were investigating 328 institutional settings that have had at least one confirmed or suspected case.

For the 1,148 people who died from the virus and for whom racial data was available, 38% were Latinx, 29% white, 19% Asian, 13% black and 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

Ferrer also reported 568 new cases of the coronavirus, noting that figures released on Mondays are generally lower due to more limited testing on weekends. The total number of cases in the county as of Monday afternoon was 26,217.

A total of 2,978 health care workers and first responders in the county have tested positive for COVID-19, an increase of about 1,000 from the previous week. Ferrer said the large jump was due primarily to stepped-up testing that has been implemented at nursing facilities. Fifteen health care workers have died in the county, and Ferrer said 12 of those people worked at skilled nursing or assisted living facilities.

Despite the continued spread of the virus, Ferrer said county officials this week will discuss plans for reopening of businesses that have been shuttered for weeks under state and local stay-at-home orders. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier Monday that the state will release guidelines on Thursday that will allow some low-risk retail businesses to reopen with curbside pickup only -- such as book stores, clothing stores, sporting-goods shops and florists.

Newsom said individual counties will retain the authority to keep stricter orders in place, possibly even delaying such businesses from reopening. Ferrer declined to say if Los Angeles County -- which has had nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, despite only having about one-quarter of the population -- will fully go along with the state's loosening of restrictions. She said the county will allow businesses to reopen as quickly as possible wherever it can be safely done so.

"I know we're all looking forward to more businesses reopening and more people being able to get back to work," she said. "I do wat to emphasize that all of us share in the responsibility to reopen in a way that's safe and doesn't cause a spike in COVID-19 cases that can result in overwhelming our health care system and having more deaths than we would want to see."

"... The virus has not changed. And it's still easily transmitted among people who are in close contact with each other," she said. "And the virus remains deadly. And we know that on average, more people die in L.A. County from COVID-19 than from any other disease. So please remember that physical distancing, wearing cloth face coverings, washing your hands, self-isolating and self-quarantining will continue to be important actions that we'll need to do throughout the foreseeable future."

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