Los Angeles County health officials reported the largest one-day increase in deaths and new COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began Saturday, with 28 more fatalities and 711 new cases added to the toll.

The county now has 5,277 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the diseased caused by the novel coronavirus — and 117 deaths.

“This is the most dramatic increase in deaths we have seen since the COVID-19 crisis began, and our condolences go out to each and every person impacted by these heartbreaking losses,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director. “Though COVID-19 can infect people of all ages, most of the deaths we see continue to be among individuals over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions. Now, more than ever, we must unify as a community to protect this vulnerable population by making sure they are able to stay home and take every precaution. … These are tough times, but we are a caring L.A. County, and we will get through this together.”

Of the 28 deaths, 21 were people with underlying health conditions, and 17 were over the age of 65, according to Los Angeles County Public Health. Two of those over 65 who did not have underlying health conditions. Nine people who died were between the ages of 18 and 65.

The pandemic has created a burden for essential workers trying to care for children, but on Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the issue by signing an executive order that subsidizes childcare for those workers. The order allows the California Department of Education and California Department of Social Services to waive certain requirements to allow childcare and after-school programs to serve essential workers, including healthcare professionals, emergency responders, law enforcement and grocery workers.

It also allows the state to take advantage of new federal pandemic provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure children receive nutritious meals at low or no cost.

The two agencies are required to determine how the order will be implemented no later than April 7.

Emergency responders are among the essential workers being hardest hit by the coronavirus. As of Friday, 43 Los Angeles Police Department employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and 13 members of the Los Angeles Fire Department had tested positive, said Jessica Kellogg of the Los Angeles Emergency Operations Center.

“One LAPD employee has recovered and returned to full duty, two individuals are hospitalized, and all other individuals are self-isolating at home and recovering,” Kellogg said. “Two LAFD employees have recovered and returned to duty, with one member who is currently hospitalized and being treated. The remaining 10 employees are recovering at home.”

The spike in county numbers comes one day after Ferrer warned residents to brace for more staggering numerical increases in coming weeks as testing capacity improves.

The number of cases across Los Angeles County grew by roughly 500 per day last week. But Ferrer said that as more testing comes online, the number of confirmed cases will likely jump to 1,000 daily by next week — given that roughly 10% of people who are tested turn out to be positive, and the county expects to soon have capacity to test 10,000 people a day.

“We want to be prepared for that,” Ferrer said. “I think that it’s very accurate that at some point next week we will start reporting that big an increase in the number of cases, because thankfully we’re able to actually test more people and make sure that people who are tested have the opportunity, if they are positive, to isolate themselves and not infect others and identify their close contacts, who will quarantine themselves and also not potentially infect others.

“So this is what it means for all of us here in L.A. County: The next few weeks are going to be critically important because we are going to see more cases of people who are positive with COVID-19. But it’s our hope that the rate increase continues to be manageable and that we don’t overwhelm our health care system. And I think that in part depends on all of you.”

Ferrer said the county has been testing about 7,000 people a day, and noted there is often a long wait for results to come in.

The health department also said Saturday that “emerging evidence suggests that there may be a significant number of people infected with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic and capable of spreading the virus to others. New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us we need to use universal precautions all the time — assuming that each of us can infect others even when we aren’t sick, and that others can infect us. Along with physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and remaining home when ill, the CDC is recommending that the general public wear non-medical face coverings when interacting with others while obtaining essential supplies and services.”

The ability of the virus to spread even before patients develop symptoms has led to increasing recommendations that residents wear some type of non-surgical mask or face covering when they go out in public. Ferrer and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have both touted the benefits of covering their faces to prevent a spread of droplets that can spread the virus from falling on surfaces or on other people.

Officials continued to stress that residents should not purchase hospital-grade masks, which are in short supply and desperately needed in hospitals.

Ferrer said people can use scarves or other fabric, suggesting that people go online for instructions on how to fashion a homemade mask.

She again noted that wearing such a face-covering does not free people from the need to remain at home as much as possible and practice social-distancing and hand-washing.

She said 1,168 people were hospitalized due to coronavirus across the county. That number does not include the many people hospitalized in Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.

Of the county’s confirmed cases, 2,641 were men and 2,277 were women, with 151 under investigation.

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