California must continue to adhere to stay-at-home orders to prevent a second surge in coronavirus cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
Newsom said the state will only reopen when 80,000 people can be tested each day, vulnerable individuals are shielded from infection, hospitals are able to handle a surge in cases, and businesses and schools have developed plans to ensure physical distancing. He did not say when the stay-at-home order will be eased, but warned that lifting the order prematurely could result in a spike in infections and deaths.
Los Angeles County officials announced Wednesday that an additional 66 individuals had died after contracting coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 729. Nearly nine in 10 people who have died had underlying health conditions, said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
The total number of cases rose to 16,435 as officials confirmed more than 1,300 new COVID-19 cases, some of which resulted from a backlog of tests that had not been previously reported by laboratories. More than 90,000 people have been tested and 15% tested positive, Ferrer said.
Ferrer urged county residents to continue observing stay-at-home and physical distancing orders.
“The weather is getting more beautiful by the day and I know we all want to be outdoors … but we need you to do this while observing the Safer at Home order,” she said. “Use a cloth face covering if you’re near other people, and keep your distance. Enjoy the outdoors alone or with other members of your household.”
Medical Services Director Christina Ghaly said data is showing a leveling off in new cases of COVID-19 and the county has adequate capacity to handle demand for hospital beds and ventilators. But new infections are not yet decreasing, and residents must continue to practice physical distancing to prevent a jump in cases.
“For many of you, your lives have been upended in financial and economic ways … I know these are stressful times financially for many,” Ghaly said. “We do have to keep this up … and as the county relaxes the order, it will be done in a careful and gradual way with a focus on how we can maintain distancing to the greatest extent possible.”
Four new cases were confirmed in Santa Monica Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the city to 139. Confirmed cases have increased 39% over the last week after rising only 14% over the previous seven days. The higher growth rate might be in part due to the backlog of cases officials announced earlier this week.
However, the results of Los Angeles County’s antibody study, which found that 4% of adults had already been infected by coronavirus by early April, suggest that thousands of Santa Monica residents could be infected with mild or no symptoms.
In Santa Monica, there are 60 confirmed cases among residents and staff at three institutional settings. Because cases are confirmed in the communities in which they permanently reside, it is unclear how many of the cases count toward Santa Monica’s total number of cases.
The Manor, a residential care facility for adults with mental illnesses, has reported four cases among residents. At the Rehabilitation Center of Santa Monica, a skilled nursing facility, 10 staff and 18 patients have tested positive.
Beachwood Post-Acute & Rehab Center, another skilled nursing facility, reported nine cases among staff and 19 among patients. Two residents have died after contracting coronavirus, the facility reported.
Ferrer said 292 residents in institutional settings, mostly in skilled nursing facilities, have died after testing positive for the virus, representing 40% of all coronavirus-related deaths.
She said the virus’ impact on nursing homes prompted the Department of Public Health to begin testing both asymptomatic and symptomatic residents and staff to ensure that anyone carrying the virus is appropriately quarantined. Starting this week, the county will distribute 2.8 million masks and other personal protective equipment to more than 300 nursing homes in the county, Ferrer added.
“It’s become clear it’s our obligation to make sure we test all residents and employees for the virus regardless of whether they show symptoms or they don’t, and maintain this level of testing for the months ahead,” she said.
Ferrer said the county has also seen a dramatic increase in cases among people experiencing homelessness, mostly because of a large outbreak at Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles that infected 43 residents and staff.
Of the 100 people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive, 55 lived in eight separate shelters and are now in quarantine, Ferrer said.