LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The number of coronavirus cases in L.A. County has climbed to 23,233 and the death toll surpasses 1,100.
Roughly four dozen more fatalities were reported Thursday, when the county's public health director stressed that young people can be just as susceptible to falling seriously ill or dying from the illness.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, announced 55 more deaths due to the coronavirus, although nine of those fatalities were reported Wednesday afternoon by Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments. Pasadena reported an additional eight deaths Thursday afternoon.
The new deaths increased the overall county total to 1,119.
Ferrer said three of the deaths reported Thursday were among people aged 18-40, with two of them suffering underlying health conditions.
“I want to note that although older people are more likely to pass away and have severe illness from COVID-19, every day for the last week-and-a- half I've reported on a number of people who have unfortunately lost their lives and been younger than 65,” Ferrer said. “So I want to remind everybody, this virus really can cause devastating illness among people of all ages.”
Of the 1,020 people who died for whom ethnic data was available, 38% were Latinx, 28% were white, 19% were Asian, 13% were black and 1% were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The figures continue to show a disparate impact of the illness on the black community, which represents only about 9% of the overall county population.
Ferrer also reported 733 new cases of the coronavirus in the county, although some of those cases were reported Wednesday by the Pasadena and Long Beach health departments. Long Beach on Thursday added 38 more cases, while Pasadena reported another 13. The new cases raised the overall county total to 23,233.
The cases include 172 among the county's homeless population. Ferrer said Wednesday that three unsheltered homeless people have died from the virus.
She said the county is investigating confirmed or suspected cases at 307 institutional settings, including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons. That number is actually down from 329 on Wednesday, and Ferrer said the drop was a result of investigations being closed at some facilities because no cases have been confirmed at those locations for 14 days.
There have been a total of 5,296 cases at such institutional settings, and 525 residents have died, representing 47% of all COVID-19 deaths in the county. The majority of people who have died in institutional settings lived in skilled nursing facilities, Ferrer said.
She said there have been 514 cases in federal prisons, the vast majority at the Terminal Island prison in San Pedro, where federal officials on Thursday confirmed the fourth death of an inmate. That inmate, 54-year-old Stephen Cino, had “long-term, pre-existing medical conditions,” according to the Bureau of Prisons. He was serving a more than 20-year sentenced on a variety of drug convictions.
Ferrer noted that people with underlying health conditions are particularly susceptible to the virus, accounting for 92% of all COVID-19 deaths in the county. She said people with pre-existing health conditions should contact a health care provider at the first sign of illness.
She noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its list of symptoms of COVID-19 and now includes a cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and a new loss of taste or smell.
“Particularly if you have more than one of these symptoms or if these are symptoms that you don't usually experience, we ask that you connect quickly with your health care provider, and everyone should be on the lookout for these signs,” she said.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director, stressed that while the city of Los Angeles is now offering testing for everyone, regardless of symptoms, the county's testing sites are still limited primarily to people showing symptoms of the illness. She said “as of right now there is no scientific evidence that would clinically indicate a need to test low-risk asymptomatic individuals outside of certain scenarios, such as people who reside in institutions and congregate living situations.”
But she said a person who has no symptoms but gets tested -- and tests negative -- should not get a false sense of security.
“A negative test for an asymptomatic person does not mean they can go back to life as normal,” she said.
She noted that such people will still be subject to the county's social-distancing and stay-at-home mandates.
“I understand that testing can provide individuals with a sense of security, and that it can make people feel more comfortable knowing whether or not you are infected on a certain day,” she said. “But I want to caution everyone on holding on too tightly to that security, because medically it is fleeting. A negative test one day does not mean that you wont get infected the next or the one after that.”
While not criticizing the city of Los Angeles' decision to offer testing to all asymptomatic people, she said the county does not offer such wide-open testing. She did say, however, that the county had expanded its testing to include certain asymptomatic populations, including health care workers, social service employees, grocery and utility workers and other essential workers. Anyone over age 65 or with underlying health conditions is also eligible for county testing.