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L.A. County Coronavirus Death Toll Mounts; Case Number Nears 2,500

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Seven more people have died in Los Angeles County from the coronavirus, with 342 new cases confirmed, authorities announced today, but the county's public health director warned that far more people are likely infected with the virus and just haven't been counted yet.

The seven new deaths pushed the county's total to 44, according to Barbara Ferrer, head of the Department of Public Health. The 342 new cases gave the county a total of 2,474 coronavirus cases. However, Long Beach health officials subsequently reported another seven cases, pushing the countywide total to 2,481.

"At this point in time, although our numbers continually rise, we do have to assume that there are other people that are infected who haven't yet been tested, so the true number of people infected in L.A. County is likely to be significantly higher," Ferrer said.
Of the seven new deaths, six were aged 65 or older, while the other was between 41 and 65, Ferrer said. Six of the seven people had underlying health conditions, including the younger patient.

Ferrer said the county is still seeing a roughly 1.8% mortality rate, meaning that of everyone who has tested positive for coronavirus in the county, 1.8% have died. Ferrer said last week the mortality rate in New York is about 1.4%

While the deaths are spread throughout the county, Ferrer said health officials are investigating 25 institutions such as nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities that have coronavirus cases. She said there have been six deaths at such facilities so far.

Eleven institutions are now being investigated for centralized outbreaks, meaning they have three or more cases.

"Where there's one case at an institutional setting, our Department of Public Health team does go in and it works with the facility and management and staff to ensure they're doing the best they can to protect the health of their residents," Ferrer said. "... Most of the residents who are in facilities where there are cases have, in fact, been quarantined."

As of Sunday, more than 15,500 people in the county have been tested for the virus, with about 12% of them turning out to be positive for the illness.

Ferrer continued to stress that the availability of testing, while expanding, remains limited, meaning it should be restricted to people who are referred by physicians or are showing definitive symptoms of the illness.

"The greatest service everyone can provide at this point is to stay home," she said. "... These are extraordinary times and I want everyone to note that we need to be prepared for this to go on for a while to come."

Among the people testing positive for coronavirus are two homeless people, one worker at a temporary housing facility for the homeless, one county jail inmate and four county jail workers, according to Ferrer.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the inmate was at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility but has since been moved to the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Ferrer did not know the positions of the jail staffers who have tested positive, but according to The Times, they are a sheriff's deputy, a custody assistant, a nursing assistant and a doctor.

County officials said hospitals across the area are making plans for an anticipated surge in cases in the coming weeks.

The Los Angeles Convention Center has been set up as a federal field hospital, with California National Guard members helping to prepare the facility over the weekend.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said is still in the process of opening up five new emergency shelters to move the homeless indoors.

The U.S. Navy medical ship Mercy, which contains beds and which arrived Friday, has received its first three patients. Mercy will not be taking coronavirus patients, he said.

Garcetti is also asking hotel and motel owners to provide rooms for Angelenos who are homeless or who need to isolate with coronavirus. He said he believed those rooms would be paid for out of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The owners will be paid by the city for the rooms. We're not asking them to donate the rooms," Garcetti said. "We believe these expenses will be reimbursed by FEMA. It's a reimbursable expense."

He urged hotel and motel owners to go to Coronavirus.LACity.org/Rooms.

The mayor said 6,741 coronavirus tests have been conducted by the city, and that he expects to triple that number by the end of the week. He also said a fifth test site opened Monday.

Angelenos for the most part adhered to the county's order over the weekend to stay off beaches and nature trails to slow the spread of the virus.

One exception occurred Saturday in Manhattan Beach, where a surfer who refused to exit the water when prompted by lifeguards was given a citation.

Manhattan Beach Police Sgt. Justin Hidalgo said the man was cited for surfing within a restricted area because a county lifeguard had put out the "blackball" flag (yellow flag with a black circle in the middle of it) and he still decided to surf.

Hidalgo said it was unclear what the fine is because a judge, through the court process, would have to determine the amount.

Most of the county's individual coastal cities had already closed off beaches, parking lots and pathways over the last week, and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area closed of all its facilities on March 22.

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