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Amid coronavirus surge, California faces tough 2 weeks ahead – Los Angeles Times

The number of coronavirus cases continued to surge in Los Angeles County, with officials on Friday reporting 257 new cases and five more deaths, bringing the county’s total to 26.

“These numbers that I report every day represent the lives of real people, and they are people that are mourned by their families and their friends,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Of the four men and one woman who died, all were over the age of 60, Ferrer said.

The county reported an additional 257 cases Friday, bringing the total to 1,481. Of the total, 678 cases were reported over the last 48 hours.

“In less than a week … we’ve more than tripled the number of people here in L.A. County who are positive for COVID-19,” Ferrer said. She warned that if the county did not slow the spread of the virus, the region’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed.

The mortality rate in L.A. County is about 1.8%, which is higher than the mortality rate in New York City and the United States overall, Ferrer said. One factor in that is that Los Angeles County has tested far few people than New York, meaning it does not have as good a sense of the number of people with the virus. Almost 11,000 people had been tested in L.A. County as of Thursday, Ferrer said. By contrast, New York City had reported 25,000 confirmed positive cases, she said.

Still, Ferrer said, access to testing in L.A. County is improving. And while the increase in cases partly reflects that improved access, “we also have to assume that these numbers represent the very real fact that we have a lot more people infected in the county who are capable of infecting others,”she said.

In the latest effort to curb the spread of the virus, all L.A. County beaches, as well as public trails and trailheads, are closed to the public effective immediately, officials announced Friday.

“The crowds we saw at our beaches last weekend were unacceptable,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “In order to save lives, beaches in L.A. County will be temporarily closed.”

The county’s public health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, signed a public health order shutting down the beaches on Friday. The order also applies to beach bike paths, bathrooms, piers and promenades.

Officials say that social distancing is one of the few tools currently available to fight the spread of the virus.

Ferrer said it is not unreasonable to expect another couple of weeks, possibly three weeks, of increasing coronavirus numbers in L.A. County. “I think we’re going to continue to see a doubling, at least a doubling, of cases every four to six days,” she said.

The Department of Public Health is monitoring three institutional facilities that have reported three or more confirmed cases of the virus among residents and staff, Ferrer said. They are assisted living facility Kensington Redondo Beach, Belmont Village senior living in Hollywood and Alameda Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Burbank, she said. Staff, residents and their families have been notified of the outbreaks, and the Department of Public Health has identified no deficiencies at any of the facilities, Ferrer said.

Of those who have tested positive in L.A. County, 317 have been hospitalized at some point, Ferrer said Friday. About 70 people are currently hospitalized, and 70% of them are in the ICU, she said.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s Mercy hospital ship arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday to assist with the expected surge in patients stricken by the coronavirus.

The ship, which has a capacity of 1,000 beds, will house patients who do not have COVID-19 in an attempt to free up regional hospital beds for those who do. Some patients who are already hospitalized in Los Angeles County will be transferred to the ship for ongoing treatment, port officials said Thursday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week that California will need 50,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, a significant increase from the 20,000 beds his administration had forecast last week. The Democratic governor said the state’s 416 hospitals were doubling so-called surge plans to 40% of their capacity, which includes providing 30,000 new beds across the system.

Newsom said last week that the state had asked the Department of Defense to deploy the Navy’s Mercy, as well as two mobile hospitals, to California.

Newsom on Friday issued an executive order banning enforcement of evictions through May 31 to assist residents affected by the pandemic.

Under the order, which takes effect immediately, landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants who are unable to pay all or part of their rent, and law enforcement and courts are barred from enforcing evictions.

That came as officials were faced with a major jump in both coronavirus deaths and cases in the state over the last two days and warned of significantly worsening conditions over the coming weeks.

The number of coronavirus cases in California topped 4,000, but that number is expected to skyrocket as testing expands. Ninety-one people have died.

The most recent deaths were reported in San Bernardino County, where the number of confirmed cases tripled this week to at least 55; in San Francisco, which had recorded 279 cases as of Friday morning; and in San Mateo County, which reported 239 cases. Orange County also reported

Nine new deaths were reported in L.A. County on Thursday. County health officials said Friday that eight of the people were over the age of 60 and one was a person in their 40s with underlying health conditions.

If each person who has tested positive for the virus infected two others, Ferrer said, “within a few weeks, there could be over a million people that would be infected in L.A. County.” Los Angeles officials have ordered all those who have tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate, along with those in close contact with the infected.

“These are not numbers, these are neighbors,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “There is no projection in which a couple weeks from now, we’re doing fine. This will be tough.”

Garcetti and other officials said the next few weeks are going to be challenging.

“A week or two from now, we will have images like we’re seeing in New York here in Los Angeles.”

New York, the national epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, has had 385 deaths, more than four times as many as California. Hospitals there need thousands more ventilators to keep the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients breathing.

In California, an inspector who performed work for the Santa Clarita water agency tested positive for the coronavirus after entering 67 apartments in a townhome complex on March 12.

The person worked for WaterWise, a contractor for SCV Water’s water efficiency program, conducting inspections to install faucet aerators and water-efficient showerheads, and to determine the flush rate of toilets, SCV Water said in a news release.

The inspector began experiencing symptoms the evening of March 12 and began the process to get tested, then learned of the results this past Monday, the agency said. The inspector told SCV Water on Tuesday; the water agency consulted with the county Department of Public Health, and residents of the apartment building were informed beginning Thursday, the release said.

The number of Los Angeles Police Department employees testing positive for the coronavirus reached 15 as of Thursday evening, officials said. At present, according to sources, four members of the command staff that lead the department are among those sickened.

And a Long Beach Police officer tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, the department announced Friday. The officer was assigned to the West Patrol Division and was directed to self-isolate after receiving the test result. The officer’s partner was told to self-quarantine for 14 days, the police department said.

The city has deep-cleaned the West Division facility and some police cars, and has initiated a contact investigation to identify others who might have been exposed, the department said.

Long Beach had reported 70 cases of the virus, as of Friday morning.

Further north, Silicon Valley could see a coronavirus-related death toll of 2,000 to 16,000 by the end of May, depending on how seriously people take the order to stay at home, according to projections presented at a San Jose City Council meeting this week.

The thinking behind the rough estimates illustrates why health and elected officials across California have sounded the alarm about the exponential rise in coronavirus cases reported since the beginning of March. Multiple officials in the state, including San Francisco’s director of public health, Dr. Grant Colfax, have warned about a surge in gravely ill coronavirus patients needing hospitalization in the next week or two.

“Even in the best-case scenario, we were looking at the order — in the next 12 weeks — of 2,000 potential deaths directly from COVID-19,” San Jose Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness said Tuesday of an estimate of the projected death toll for Santa Clara County, California’s sixth most populous county.

Harkness emphasized the projections he presented are rough and the county is working on a more detailed and robust estimate. “But given the urgency of the situation, we have decided to share [these] preliminary results with you and the public today, in order to derive the action that is needed to save lives.”

Nicholas Jewell, a biostatistics researcher at UC Berkeley who has been tracking the pandemic, said COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout the U.S., at a rate quicker than or on par with countries hit the hardest.

While California continues to try to gain a clear picture of the outbreak, Jewell said, the expected surge does not mean physical distancing and shelter-in-place orders aren’t working. There is still hope that the aggressive social distancing restrictions imposed across the state could make a difference.

“We knew going in we will not see any impact of shelter in place for at least two to three weeks,” he said. “We have to be patient at this point and stay the course.”

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