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LA County deaths rise by 56 as experts adjust predictions on hospital readiness

Los Angeles County reported another 56 deaths from the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, April 29, as public health officials adjusted their predictions upward slightly for how many hospital beds the county could need in the weeks ahead.

Los Angeles County reported another 56 deaths from the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, April 29, as public health officials adjusted their predictions upward slightly for how many hospital beds the county could need in the weeks ahead as they weigh when and how to ease “Safer at Home” orders.

One of the reasons for the altered projection, according to Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly, was that researchers have found people are remaining in the hospital for longer periods than expected. The projection went from requiring about 1,600 beds to roughly 2,000 beds, with some margin for error that increases over time.

“Our new case prediction is still within the band of uncertainty,” Ghaly said. “This means that our hospital system remains capable of meeting the demand.”

But that’s only with social distancing remaining in place, Ghaly cautioned, saying that a full relaxing of the stay-at-home order at this time could trigger a surge on the health care system in a matter of two to four weeks.

“I know that this is very difficult,” Ghaly said. “But with the stability of the health system LA County is in a position to pull back on restrictions in a few weeks. As they are eased we still must continue to physically distance.”

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer speaks at the county’s daily briefing, Wednesday, April 29. Photo: Facebook video screenshot

The county’s death toll reached 1,056 on Wednesday. At the same time, officials reported 1,541 new confirmed cases, which Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said was the result of additional testing at nursing homes and a backlog of test results from the weekend.

“You all have seen that on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, our numbers can be higher,” Ferrer said.

There have now been 22,485 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in LA County, a large portion of which have recovered though Ferrer said Wednesday they lack good data to determine exactly how many have gotten better.

Related: Are we ready to ease coronavirus shutdown? How predictive modeling will help answer that question

The county’s mid-day report did not include updated numbers for Long Beach and Pasadena, cities that operate their own health departments.

Pasadena later reported its deadliest day of the pandemic so far, reporting six new deaths (42 total) and 10 new confirmed cases.

Long Beach reported that another three residents died after testing positive for the coronavirus, bringing the city’s death toll to 36. The city also announced 27 new cases of COVID-19, bringing its total so far to 629.

County officials reported that roughly 92% of all those who died from complications related to COVID-19, had underlying health conditions. Among those whose deaths were reported Wednesday, 42 had underlying health conditions, 41 were over the age 65, nine were between 41 and 65 and two were between 18 and 40.

The countywide numbers continued to show disparities in cases and deaths among African Americans and Pacific Islanders, though Ferrer cautioned that for the latter group the data set was small to draw broad conclusions. African Americans account for roughly 13% of deaths out of 977 death records for which race and ethnicity was available. In LA County overall, African Americans represent roughly 9% and Pacific Islanders 0.4% of the population, according to the U.S. Census.

“These trends are troubling and of great concern,” Ferrer said. “They suggest that more affluent residents may have better access to COVID-19 testing and treatments. These findings highlight the urgent need for more intensive efforts to expand access to culturally competent treatment and prevention strategies.”

A third person experiencing homelessness has died and there are now 164 cases among the homeless population, 97 of which were among those sheltered, mostly at the Union Rescue Mission where every resident was recently tested to prevent further spread of an outbreak.

Testing would begin in earnest next week for asymptomatic health care workers at skilled nursing facilities where the county has seen close to 500 deaths so far. There were now 4,950 confirmed cases among residents and staff at 329 institutional settings, and the county has received help to address the matter from the state, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Guard.

These facilities are working hard and they continue to do their best to protect residents and staff under very challenging circumstances,” Ferrer said.

As the county begins to look toward easing the stay-at-home orders on May 15, Ferrer said officials would be watching closely the number of hospitalizations.

“Tracking the number of new hospitalizations every day will be critically important to assess how well we are continuing our work to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Ferrer said.

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