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L.A. County Coronavirus Cases Top 15,000; Skid Row Mission Copes with Outbreak

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 20 episode here.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County surged past 15,000 today, while more than three dozen more deaths were reported and health officials said they were working to control an outbreak at the downtown Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row.

As of midday, the number of deaths in the county due to COVID-19 was 663. The county's public health director, Barbara Ferrer, announced 1,400 new cases overall, although 880 of those were due to a newly cleared backlog of earlier testing results.

The additional cases pushed the countywide total of cases to 15,140, but officials in Long Beach -- which has its own health department -- subsequently announced 13 additional cases, raising the county total to 15,153.

Of the 663 people who have died, ethnic/race data was available for only 582 people. Of those, 36% were Latinx, 28% white, 18% Asian and 16% black, continuing the trend of a disproportionate percentage of black and Asian residents dying from the illness.

A total of 269 institutional settings -- including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons -- have had at least one case. Those institutions have accounted for a total of 2,913 cases, involving 1,692 residents and 1,221 staff members. They also account for 255 deaths, or roughly 38% of all coronavirus fatalities in the county. The "vast majority" of those deaths were in skilled nursing facilities, according to the county.

One institution that has been particularly hard hit is the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Ferrer said when multiple cases were confirmed at the facility, a "broad testing strategy" was implemented, with more than 200 people tested. Those tests determined that 43 people were infected with the coronavirus, with 27 of them never showing any symptoms.

"Public Health has been working with staff and the director at the mission since they had their first positive COVID-19 case on March 28," Ferrer said. "Because there are a large number of guests at Union Rescue Mission, we have continued to work closely with the facility and efforts have been made in large part thanks to the gracious help of the director and their staff to decompress the shelter to allow for maximum physical distancing on each of their floors.

"... The Union Rescue Mission has also agreed to quarantine everyone who's at the site, and to no longer admit new guests while we try to control the outbreak," she said. "Staff and guests that are remaining on site are being asked to practice physical distancing and wear their cloth face coverings as they're quarantined. They've also enhanced their daily screening and their
deep-cleaning practices."

Ferrer said 184 people who were staying at the mission have been moved to hotels or motels nearby. She said 112 people who were close contacts with confirmed patients or who were showing symptoms have been placed in isolation, while 72 residents who determined to be "medically vulnerable" were placed at hotels included in the statewide Project Roomkey program.

County health officials are holding daily meetings mission officials and an environmental health team is inspecting the facility every other day to ensure property infection-control measures are in place, Ferrer said.

As of Tuesday, more than 89,000 people have been tested in the county, with about 14% of them testing positive.

Responding to recent protests in other cities calling for a lifting of public-health restrictions and business closures, Ferrer and Supervisor Hilda Solis both said social-distancing measures are still needed to prevent another surge in cases.

"The weather is getting beautiful, and we share your desire to have a plan for recovery. As I mentioned last week, in order for us to be able to safely relax our Safer At Home order, we need to make sure that we do this in a way that doesn't result in a surge in hospitalizations and deaths. And that we're able to care for people who are sick and need health-care serivces."

She said the county is working with health care faciliteis to prepare for possible surges in COVID-19 cases while also treating people with other health issues.

"We can't reopen safely until we make sure we protect those that are most vulnerable," she said.

Solis also said that summer-like weather anticipated over the next few days should not lull residents into a sense of security, saying, "Now is the time for us to continue staying at home."

"This order remains in place to protect you," she said.

She said county officials will be working closely with the state when it comes to decisions regarding reopening businesses and lifting stay-at-home orders. She said that "just because there are voices" calling for restrictions to be lifted, those decisions will rely on data and science.

"We know that we can't be foolish," she said.

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