LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A woman has become the first person in Los Angeles County to die of COVID-19, health officials announced Wednesday.
The patient, a woman over the age of 60, was not a local resident. She had recently been on a long flight layover in South Korea, had traveled extensively and was visiting someone in L.A. County when she became sick, L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
In a phone interview with KCAL9, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city is in a critical time period for being able to push back on the continued spread of the virus.
“I believe in this city strongly — whether it’s through fires or earthquakes — this is a very resilient city, but unlike the recent fires, the first responders aren’t just the professionals who work in government, they’re all of us,” he said. “And right now is a critical period for us that, literally what we do… that can help push out the cases to a number of days or even weeks.”
Garcetti also said that Gov. Gavin Newsom would be issuing guidance to local communities over the cancellation or postponement of upcoming large-scale events.
The number of positive coronavirus cases in L.A. County now stands at 27, including three out of the city of Long Beach.
Of the 27, six new cases were confirmed Wednesday. Two of those six patients are hospitalized. One of those hospitalized patients is believed to have acquired the disease through community spread, only the second such case in L.A. County.
“We have one resident with no known travel or close-contact exposure, who we presume is our second case of community-acquired infection,” Ferrer told reporters.
Another of the six new patients is a local resident who got infected after traveling to a religious conference in another state and was in close contact with an infected person there, Ferrer said. Yet another patient is an L.A. County resident who returned home ill after traveling to France.
Ferrer said that the health department was not yet at the point where it was asking for the cancellation of large events, such as the mass ban that the city of San Francisco issued on all gatherings over 1,000 people.
“More social distancing could mean going to spectator-free sporting events,” Ferrer said. “It can certainly mean cancelling large events through L.A. County. And while we’re not there yet, we do need to get prepared for the eventuality that we will see many more cases, and because of that, we will need to do a lot more social distancing.”
Ferrer said the agency is saddened by its first death.
“We want everyone to understand COVID-19 can cause serious illness, particularly for people who are elderly and people who have underlying health conditions and pregnant women,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said that in the absence of a vaccine, social distancing is the best tool to slow down the spread of this infectious disease.
“It is also really important if you’re a person who is older, and you have underlying health conditions, or you have a serious immune compromised system, or you’re a pregnant woman, or you’re just aging: this is the time to avoid all non-essential travel,” Ferrer said. “This is the time to stop going to events where there are large groups of people gathering.”
On Wednesday night, Ventura County reported a presumptive case of coronavirus, the second in the county if confirmed by the CDC.
According to Ventura County health officials, the patient recently returned from a trip to Italy, became symptomatic and sought medical attention. After being tested in Los Angeles County, the patient returned home to Ventura County and was currently quarantined at home. The case is considered presumptive until confirmed by the CDC.
Ventura County health officials said there have been no confirmed cases of person-to-person transmission in the county.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person through close contact, usually within 6 feet, and mainly via respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. People are likely most contagious when they are most symptomatic. Coronavirus can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose and eyes.