COVID-19 Becomes Leading Cause of Death in L.A. County

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - At an average of 44 daily fatalities over a 12-day period, the novel coronavirus is now L.A. County's leading cause of death, dwarfing the flu and heart disease.

Barbara Ferrer, head of the county Department of Public Health, announced another 68 deaths Thursday, although that figure includes three fatalities that were reported Wednesday afternoon by Long Beach, which has its own health agency. Pasadena, which also has its own health department, announced one additional death Thursday afternoon, raising that city's total to 29.

The new deaths pushed the countywide total to 798.

For the 716 deaths for which data is available, 37% were Latinx, 28% white, 18% Asian and 15% black. Of all the deaths, 89% of the patients had underlying health conditions.

Ferrer also announced another 1,081 new cases of COVID-19, raising the countywide total to 17,508. Long Beach subsequently announced another 29 cases, while Pasadena announced 30 more, raising the county total to 17,567.

Ferrer said that since April 12, 535 people have died from the coronavirus, meaning 67% of all of the county's COVID-19 fatalities have occurred in the past 12 days. That equates to an average of about 44 deaths per day, meaning the coronavirus “has now become the leading cause of death” in the county, she said.

“More people are dying each day from COVID-19 than from other diseases that we track and get information,” she said. “To put this in perspective, on average there are five people who die from flu each day during flu season. There are eight people who die from COPD (lung disease) and emphysema each day, and there are 31 people who pass away each day because of coronary heart disease. These are our leading causes of death across the county.”

With the death toll increasing rapidly in the past two weeks, Ferrer said the numbers “are a stark reminder for all of us of the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19,” and the need to maintain physical-distancing and other health orders -- despite the relaxing of such rules in some jurisdictions and calls from some groups for California to follow suit.

“Across the county, the number of people in the last two months that have died from COVID-19 is greater than the number of people that died from influenza over the past eight months' flu season, and this is true for the United States as a whole as well,” Ferrer said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier Thursday that 115 people in California had died from the disease over the past 24 hours, making it the deadliest day in the state for the coronavirus.

Included in the county's more than 17,000 cases are 100 homeless people, the majority of them due to an outbreak that remains under investigation at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Ferrer said the county is still awaiting some test results from the facility, but officials said earlier this week that at least 56 people had tested positive, and one staff member has died.

A total of 286 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 3,343 cases, and 310 deaths, representing 39% of all coronavirus fatalities in the county. The vast majority of those deaths were residents of skilled nursing facilities, where testing is being ramped up this week to include all residents and staff regardless of whether they are showing any symptoms.

Los Angeles will double its mobile COVID-19 testing teams starting Monday to bolster the local response to cases of the illness at senior living facilities, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Thursday.

“We going to continue focusing on those places that can be death traps,” Garcetti said. “If people have, as we've seen across the country, surges of cases among our most vulnerable seniors, we know it can be devastating.”

Along with the county health professionals, the mobile testing teams will be increased from three to six and will be dispatched to senior living facilities if someone shows symptoms of COVID-19.

Garcetti said about 74% of people who have died from the coronavirus in the county have been 65 or older, and about 30% of all deaths have occurred at senior living facilities.

Garcetti announced Wednesday night that testing will now be offered to all front-line workers -- such as health care workers, grocery and pharmacy workers, firefighters and police officers -- regardless of whether they are symptomatic. The 30-plus testing sites across the county had previously been restricted to people who were showing symptoms.

Ferrer said more than 98,000 people have been tested to date across the county, with about 14% of them testing positive. She again encouraged people to get tested if they are showing symptoms, even if they might be afraid of learning the results.

Responding to reports that a pair of cats in New York and some animals in Hong Kong and Belgium had tested positive for the virus, Ferrer said cases in households pets are “fairly rare.” She said people who have tested positive for the virus or are in isolation with symptoms should avoid contact with pets.

Ferrer said the county Department of Public Health website has guidelines for pet owners to follow during the pandemic.

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