The alarming spread of the coronavirus is persisting across Los Angeles County, and health officials say they will be dramatically expanding access to testing in hard-hit communities.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that hospitalization numbers also continue to increase, with the county seeing its highest patient numbers of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, when health officials announced more than 40 additional fatalities and 2,700 new cases, there were 2,193 people hospitalized in the county due to the virus — a figure that does not include Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.

“We are in an alarming and dangerous phase in this pandemic here in L.A. County and we’re in this place along with 29 other counties across the state,” Ferrer said. “These alarming trends reflect behaviors from three weeks ago, and it will take several weeks to see if our behavior now, including the rollback of previously opened sectors, slows the spread of the virus. What we do today impacts our lives in the weeks and the months ahead.”

Ferrer announced another 44 deaths due to the coronavirus, although three of those fatalities were reported Tuesday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. Long Beach announced five more deaths Wednesday. The new deaths increased the countywide total to 3,937.

Ferrer also announced another 2,758 cases, while Long Beach confirmed 193 more cases and Pasadena added five — lifting the overall case total since the start of the pandemic to 143,207.

More than 1.4 million people have been tested for the virus during the pandemic, with the overall rate of positive tests at 9%. The rolling average over the past seven days was slightly higher, at 9.8%.

Ferrer again noted that younger residents between 18 and 40 continue to represent a larger chunk of people testing positive for the virus and taking up hospital space — a trend that began with Memorial Day weekend.

“Younger people between the ages of 18 and 40 are also being hospitalized at a significantly higher rate than we’ve seen before, and it continues to increase. It’s almost at 30% now,” Ferrer said.

She said the increases in hospitalizations have accelerated dramatically in recent weeks, putting pressure on the medical system and potentially threatening the availability of intensive-care unit beds if the trend does not reverse.

“This is also further evidence that we should probably expect to see an increase in deaths in the coming days and weeks,” she said.

“What this really means for all of us is that we need to start and continue to take the steps that protect our health care infrastructure so hospitals are able to manage the growing number of people that need inpatient care,” Ferrer said. “That is why it’s so important to follow the public health directives, like staying home, avoiding close contact with people you don’t live with and wearing your face covering at all times when you’re out of your house.”

She noted that the average number of cases reported each day have roughly doubled since early June, when the seven-day daily average was 1,452. The current seven-day average number of daily new cases is 2,859 — providing further evidence of increased community transmission of the virus, Ferrer said.

Ferrer and the county medical services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said the current case numbers continue to highlight the disproportionate impact of the virus in Black and Brown communities and in low-income areas, prompting the county to announce an expansion of testing in particularly hard-hit communities.

Ghaly said that over the next few weeks, the county will be expanding testing sites by 65%, “with the entirety of that expansion focused on areas of high need.” She said new sites would be established in Montebello, South Gate, Azusa, Panorama City, Compton and Downey-Norwalk. Existing sites will also be expanded in Bellflower, Pomona, El Monte and East Los Angeles.

Health officials have been urgently calling for residents to return to stricter adherence to infection-control measures, including social-distancing, avoiding gatherings with people outside their own households and wearing face coverings when in public.

They declined to identify any exact trigger points that might lead to a return to the original “Safer At Home” order that called on residents to remain at home as much as possible, leaving only for essential errands, and that shuttered most businesses.

“If we do a really good job of implementing all of the tools we have at hand, we can get back to slowing the spread, and that makes it a lot less likely we will return to Safer At Home,” Ferrer said.

She also stressed the need for business owners to ensure they are adhering to all safety protocols required for continued operations.

“We all share a common goal — slow the spread by preventing employees, customers and visitors at any facilities in the county from transmitting the virus or becoming infected,” Ferrer said. “Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and to their employees’ families to provide a safe work environment that adheres to every single one of the health officer directives.”

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom renewed business restrictions in 30 California counties, including Los Angeles. His order again forced the closure of indoor gyms, hair salons, nail salons, places of worship, massage businesses and tattoo parlors. Newsom also ordered a statewide closure of all bars and forced restaurants throughout California to cease indoor service.

On Tuesday, L.A. County reported a single-day record of 4,244 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and 73 deaths — just three short of the record set back in May.

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