L.A. County: Physical Distancing Will Be our New Normal


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County health officials are lamenting the continuing disparity in deaths among lower-income and ethnic groups and warn that physical-distancing rules will remain for months, even if businesses start reopening.

The county Department of Public Health reported 56 more deaths Wednesday, although four of those fatalities were actually announced Tuesday afternoon by Long Beach and Pasadena, which both have their own municipal health agencies. Pasadena, however, reported six additional deaths Wednesday, while Long Beach reported three. The new deaths increased the countywide total to 1,065.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer said 92% of the people who have died during the pandemic had underlying health conditions, highlighting the need for residents who have compromised health to strictly adhere to social-distancing requirements to avoid infection.

“And most importantly, at the very first sign of illness, please contact your (health) provider,” she said.

Ferrer said one of the new deaths was an unsheltered homeless person, the third homeless victim to die from the virus in the county.

Of the 977 people who died for whom ethnic data was available, 38% were Latinx, 28% were white, 18% were Asian, 13% were black and 1% were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

“Rates of COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths are extremely high among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders,” Ferrer said. “And they're also higher among African-Americans and Latinx than among whites and Asians.

“... Rates of cases and death are also higher among people with less income, while the rate of testing increases as income increases. These trends are troubling and of great concern and they suggest that more affluent residents may have better access to COVID-19 testing and to health treatment services, even as the rates of infection appear to be higher among lower-income communities and many communities of color,” she said. “These findings highlight the urgent need for more intensive efforts to expand access to culturally competent testing treatment and prevention strategies in the African- American, Latinx and Native American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as in our lower resourced neighborhoods.”

Ferrer also reported 1,541 new cases of COVID-19, noting that the large daily increase was due in part to resolving a backlog of results of weekend testing. Some of those cases had also been reported Tuesday by Long Beach and Pasadena. On Wednesday, Pasadena announced 10 additional cases, while Long Beach added another 27. The new cases lifted the countywide total to 22,522.

There have been a total of 164 cases among the homeless community, with 97 of them living in shelters. Most of those were staying at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, which has been subjected to increased testing due to a continuing outbreak.

Cases also continue to mount in institutional settings, most notably in nursing homes. Ferrer said there are 329 such institutions -- including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons -- with at least one confirmed or suspected case. There have been a total of 4,950 confirmed cases, and 498 deaths. All of the people who died were facility residents, the vast majority of them in skilled nursing facilities, Ferrer said. Those deaths represent 47% of all the fatalities in the county.

Ferrer said the Los Angeles area has “unique challenges” in terms of corralling and slowing the spread of the coronavirus, most notably the high population density in certain areas that contributes to infection spread. She also pointed to the large population of “medically fragile people” living in nursing facilities.

“These factors do contribute to relatively high numbers of hospitalizations and high numbers of death we see in L.A. County,” she said. “This is very similar to other large and densely populated cities and counties across the country. In spite of our vulnerabilities, we're also seeing our rate of hospitalizations and our rates of people testing positive for COVID-19 remain fairly stable over time. ... This is because of all the work you're doing to slow the spread.

“Please, for now I ask you to keep doing what your doing. Follow the Safer At Home orders, and take measures to prevent the spread of the virus and protect your loved ones. Infection-control practices and physical distancing will remain with us for months to come, so it's good to get these down and make sure that these tools, we all feel comfortable using all the time. They do slow the spread.”

Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's medical services director, echoed those comments, as she continued to warn that abandoning social-distancing measures will lead to an increase in cases and put strain on local hospitals.

Even as authorities consider possibly reopening some businesses, Ghaly said that won't mean safety protocols such as social-distancing will be going away.

“Safer At Home and physical distancing is working and has been effective in flattening the curve in Los Angeles County,” she said. “But I know it is also very difficult. We all feel it and many of us are suffering economically as a result of the measures that the virus has forced us to put into place. But with the stability of the health system, Los Angeles County is one step closer to being able to begin paring back gradually the Safer At Home restrictions over the coming weeks.

“As restrictions are eased in a few weeks, we must continue to ensure we are physically distancing as much as possible at the same time that we're working to get back to work and restarting the economy. Physical distancing will be our new normal for quite some time.”

Photo: Getty Images

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