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L.A. County, State Under Stay-Home Orders As Coronavirus Spreads

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County residents were living under a stay-home order today in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 300 county residents, two of whom have died.

As of Friday afternoon, the number of COVID-19 cases reported by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health was 292, including 12 cases in Long Beach and two in Pasadena. However, Long Beach, which maintains its own health department, reported two more cases late Friday morning, bringing the city's total to 14 and the countywide total to 294.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of county health, noted that the county has 138 cases involving people between the ages of 18 and 65, stressing that young people make up a large chunk of local cases. She said the median age of the patients is about 47.

"The risk is spread across everybody who lives here in Los Angeles County," she said. "Younger people, while they may have a better outcome (from an infection) ... are in fact one of the largest groups of people that we have tested who are positive for COVID-19."

Health officials have stressed since the outbreak began that while older people, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women can suffer more severe consequences from contracting coronavirus, the threat of being diagnosed with the illness is spread across all age groups. And while younger patients may suffer lesser symptoms, they can still spread the illness to people who may become more severely ill.

Statewide, the number of cases topped 1,000 on Friday, with the California Department of Public Health putting the number at 1,006, including 19 deaths. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Thursday that the number of California cases is likely to skyrocket in the coming weeks, with the state projecting 25.5 million cases -- roughly 56% of the population -- within two months.

The ominous figures prompted state and local officials on Thursday to issue stern warnings for residents to remain indoors as much as possible.

Los Angeles County issued a "Safer At Home" order, which officials insisted was a step below a lockdown or shelter-in-place requirement. But the order calls on residents to stay home as much as possible, leaving only for essential needs such as picking up food, groceries or medications. The order calls for nonessential retail stores to close their doors, and for residents to work at home whenever possible.

The order does not require people to remain indoors, but it prohibits gatherings of 10 people or more -- and even in such gatherings, people must maintain a safe distance from each other. Residents are still free to go outside for walks, hikes or bike rides, but not in large groups.

Businesses considered essential and permitted to remain open include hardware stores, repair shops, media outlets, banks, laundromats, dry-cleaners and pet supply stores.

The order covers all cities in Los Angeles County, although officials in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Long Beach issued similar mandates of their own.

"All businesses, including museums, malls, retail stores, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations must stop operations that require workers to be present in person," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "And no public and private gatherings of any size that would occur outside of a single home will be allowed, with clear exceptions."

"I want to be clear about this, that the only time you should leave your home is for essential activities and needs -- to get food, care for a relative or friend or a child, get necessary healthcare, go for a walk in the neighborhood," he said. "... I think there's been terrible terms out there, like lockdown. Nobody is locked down. We encourage you not to be locked down. This is not shelter-in-place like a school shooting. This is stay at home. Because you're safer at home. The only people who should be leaving home and going out are those whose jobs are critical to the safety, the health and security of the city, as well as the economy of recovery for us and the nation during this crisis."

Los Angeles County on Thursday reported its second death from the virus. County officials did not name the patient, but his relatives identified him as 34-year old Jeffrey Ghazarian of Glendora. His family said he became sick during a trip to Orlando, Florida, where he went on a business trip but then extended his stay to visit Disney World and Universal Studios.

The man died Thursday at a hospital in Pasadena after spending a week on a ventilator. The Los Angeles Times quoted medical and government sources as saying he had underlying medical conditions, including asthma and bronchitis.

Ghazarian's family posted on his Facebook page, "Our sweet, loving, fun Jeffrey went to be with Jesus this morning. He suffered a lot and put up a good fight. We will miss our Jeff every day but we are thankful for all the fun happy memories of the times we had together."

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According to Facebook posts by the family, Ghazarian tested positive for coronavirus on March 13 and was admitted to a hospital the next day.

Ferrer said that of the county's cases, 48 have been hospitalized at some point, including three of the new patients reported Friday.

Los Angeles County officials have been working to establish quarantine/isolation areas for people who either have the virus, have been exposed to it or are showing symptoms. One location has already been established at Dockweiler State Beach, where RVs have been parked to provide isolation space.

County Supervisor Hilda Solis announced Friday that the Sheraton Fairplex hotel in Pomona will become a quarantine/isolation facility beginning Monday. She said the county has negotiated a lease for the hotel's 244 rooms that will continue through May 31, with an option to extend through June.

The rooms will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis, with one person housed per room. Solis said people in the hotel will receive services such as food, medical care and laundry.

The Pomona Fairplex is also opening a child-care center for the children of first-responders, and a drive-through food pantry will begin operating at the facility on April 1.

Ferrer stressed on Thursday that the county is going to see continued increases in cases over the next four to 12 weeks.

"But that doesn't mean that the important actions that you're all taking to combat this virus are not working," she said. "Social distancing is critical and we implore you to take seriously everyone's obligation to limit their exposures to others and to limit others from being exposed to you. This is the one way that we can all be serious about what it mean to try to slow down the increasing number of cases here in the county."

Ferrer also issued an ominous warning, saying, "As a general rule of thumb, you should assume that you may be infected and that others around you may be infected."

"Therefore, act accordingly," she said. "Take every precaution possible to avoid infecting others and to avoid becoming infected. That's the goal of social distancing."

She noted the number of cases will continue to rise in part because of the increased availability of testing, with seven labs operating with multiple sites. But she stressed that while lab availability is increasing, it remains limited.

According to Ferrer, about 21% of people tested at the county lab wind up being positive for coronavirus, while the rate in commercial labs is running about 10%.

Ferrer said anyone who is feeling "stressed and overwhelmed" can call a 24-hour support hotline operated by the county Department of Mental Health at 800-854-7771.

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