Los Angeles County health officials announced Friday, April 24 new orders to further protect vulnerable residents and employees at skilled long-term care centers, facilities repeatedly rocked by novel coronavirus-linked deaths.
The announcement arrived amid more grim news for the county as officials reported 52 new deaths, bringing the total to 848. There were 1,035 new positive cases confirmed Friday, raising the county’s total to 18,517 since the crisis began.
County officials list 5,339 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in institutional facilities — 3,847 residents and 1,492 staff members. Along with nursing homes, institutional settings include homeless shelters, treatment facilities and jails/correctional centers.
Of those cases, 365 of the afflicted have died, representing 43% of all deaths in the county. Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s public health department, said the increase in cases can be attributed to an increase in county testing of asymptomatic people.
New measures announced Friday require nursing homes and other licensed care facilities to conduct COVID-19 testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic people — on a frequency to be determined by the county, Ferrer said.
“We will begin this process to make sure we’re able to test all residents and staff in skilled nursing homes,” Ferrer said. “The ones with the most severe outbreaks will be prioritized.”
Non-essential employees and visitors won’t be allowed in the congregate living facilities, and residents at those facilities won’t be able to take part in such communal activities as dining, exercise sessions and meetings, Ferrer said.
Staff must wear surgical masks in the centers. Residents must wear face coverings when going outside of their rooms.
The county is currently investigating 293 institutional settings that have at least one case — that’s seven more than the previous day.
Of the deaths announced Friday, 91% had underlying health conditions; 43 were over 65 of whom 34 had underlying health conditions. Seven people were between 41-65, all of whom had underlying conditions. One person between 18-40 died with underlying conditions and one death was misreported by another county.
Of tests on more than 108,000 people in L.A. County, 15% have come back positive, Ferrer said. Of 1,858 currently hospitalized, 30% are in ICU and 19% are on ventilators.
“Those numbers have remained very stable in the last few weeks,” Ferrer said.
County officials also reported 115 confirmed cases in jails, including 69 staff members.
County officials reported the day before that the novel coronavirus is now the leading cause of death in L.A. County, after 535 people in the past two weeks died from the illness.
There are 100 cases of COVID-19 in people experiencing homelessness, 55 of whom are now sheltered and properly isolated.
The mid-day report did not include updated numbers for Pasadena or Long Beach, cities that operate their own health departments.
New scientific modelling announced Wednesday projected that county hospitals will be able to handle patients with the most severe cases, if residents stick to “safer-at-home” orders for at least three more weeks.
According to the model, roughly 11% of county residents would be infected by August if current isolation measures continued. If rules were strengthened for the next three weeks, just 5% of residents would contract the virus. And without any stay-at-home orders, 96% of residents would become infected.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger on Friday said the county is developing a plan to ease stay-at-home restrictions, with prerequisites that would include:
- Attaining sufficient healthcare resources to prepare for an spike in cases
- Additional protections for the more vulnerable, elderly and homeless
- Increased capacity to test, isolate and trace cases
- And enduring distancing guidelines for businesses.
“This will help us build L.A. County stronger than before,” Barger said.
“It won’t happen all at once, but when (experts) deem it healthy and safe,” Barger said.
“We don’t want to undo what we’ve done,” she added. “We’re not on the other side of this pandemic and we don’t want to overwhelm our hospitals.”
Dr. Christina Ghaly, who heads the county’s Department of Health Services, said earlier this week that the rate of hospitalizations was expected to hover around 1,500 until mid-May and the number of ICU patients is expected to remain stable at around 600. Four hundred ventilators are expected to remain available, despite recent fears they would be in desperately short supply.
Ferrer conceded Wednesday that what health officials first believed about the virus has changed — concerning both its rates of spread among asymptomatic people and how prevalent it is in the general population.
Ferrer also said that health officials may have initially been wrong about when the virus initially started its L.A.-area spread. In January, she said, the coronavirus was suspected of having already arrived in the U.S. but they did not have the diagnostic ability to know for certain.