LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County coronavirus cases surged past the 4,000 mark today, while health officials reported another 13 deaths and warned residents that wearing a mask -- while beneficial -- doesn't alleviate the need to stay home as much as possible.
The 13 new deaths brought the county's total to 78 and increased the local mortality rate to 1.9%, meaning 1.9% of people who have tested positive for the virus in the county have died. The county's rate had been hovering at 1.8% over the past week.
Barbara Ferrer, head of the county Department of Public Health, said 12 of the 13 new deaths were people over age 65, while the other person was between 18 and 45. Eleven of the 13 people had underlying health conditions.
Ferrer also reported 534 new cases in the county, bringing the total to 4,045. Included in that number are nine homeless people, one county jail inmate, six jail staffers and six inmates at the state prison in Lancaster.
The county has confirmed more than 1,000 new cases in the past 48 hours, Ferrer said at her early afternoon briefing.
As she has in the past, Ferrer attributed the increasing numbers to the ever-increasing availability of testing, but also to the fact that the virus is spreading in part because more people are likely infected without their knowledge and unwittingly spreading it to others before ever displaying any symptoms.
The ability of the virus to spread even before patients develop symptoms has led to increasing recommendations that residents wear some type of mask when they go out in public. On Wednesday, Ferrer said there is a benefit to wearing masks to avoid spreading droplets that can be emitted when people speak or breathe and carry the virus to other people. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday urged all residents to wear cloth face coverings when they leave their homes.
Ferrer on Thursday echoed that sentiment, but stressed that simply wearing a mask will not prevent the virus' spread.
"It's really important that folks understand that while the guidance suggests that it would be beneficial to mask up when you're out and about, we're much clearer on the benefits that accrue if you do everything else we've asked you to do," she said. "Most important is social distancing. You're not going to spread germs if you're not close to people. That six-foot barrier is essential for us to maintain, even if you're masked."
"I don't want people to get a sense of security, 'Oh, I've covered my nose and mouth and now I can be out and about.' That is not what we're saying. You must keep that social distancing. The mask will not protect you 100 percent, particularly from infecting others, which is really all that they are appropriate for. You need to wash your hands. Washing your hands is still the most appropriate action you can take to prevent germs from getting inside you. So wash your hands. Don't touch your face unless your hands are clean."
She also again stressed that residents should not be purchasing hospital-grade surgical masks, which are in short supply and needed by health-care workers. She said people can use scarves or other fabric, suggesting that people go online for instructions on how to fashion a homemade mask.
"They're very simple to make. There's nothing fancy about them," she said.
Ferrer said 241 were hospitalized due to coronavirus as of midday Thursday across the county, and two-thirds of them had no underlying health conditions. She said 28% of those people were in intensive care units, including five people under age 35. Roughly 900 of the people who have tested positive for the illness overall have been hospitalized at some point.
Ferrer said health officials are investigating coronavirus cases at 54 "institutional settings" -- such as nursing homes, skilled nursing centers, assisted living facilities, residential treatment programs, shelters, jails and prisons. That number is up from 43 on Wednesday. She said there have been a total of 298 positive cases at those 54 facilities, and 11 of them have died.
As of Wednesday, more than 23,300 people in the county have been tested for the virus. Ferrer said about 13% of those people turned out to be positive, but she said that percentage is likely inflated because some local labs have not provided complete updates on tests that came back negative.