Los Angeles County’s coronavirus toll was nearing 20,000 cases Monday, with more than 900 deaths reported and the county’s public health director lamenting the continued disproportionate impact of the disease in lower-income communities and among ethnic groups.

Officials Sunday reported 18 more deaths from COVID-19, raising the total to 913, while 440 new cases were reported, giving the county a total of 19,528.

Ninety-three percent of people who died had underlying health conditions, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“The most difficult part of the COVID-19 pandemic is losing people to the virus. To all of you who have lost loved ones, we are deeply sorry,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said Sunday. “As we have more information about who is dying, we are reminded that the work ahead requires that we address issues of disproportionality that result in higher rates of death among African Americans, Latinx and Asians as well as residents living in poverty. Ensuring access to testing, early treatment and care, and economic support among those communities at higher risk of devastating outcomes associated with COVID-19, is essential.”

As of Sunday, information about race and ethnicity was available for 837 of the county’s 913 deaths. Of those, 37% occurred among Latinx residents, 28% among white residents, 18% among Asian residents, 14% among black residents, 1% among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander residents and 1% among residents identifying with other races.

Black residents continue to have the highest rate of death for COVID-19 when compared to other groups at 13 deaths per 100,000 people, Ferrer said. The mortality rate for Latinx is 9.5; for Asians, the rate is 7.5; and for whites, the rate is 5.5. Individuals living in lower-income communities are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than individuals living in wealthier communities, with the death rate of 16.5 deaths per 100,000 people in communities where 30% to 100% of residents are living in poverty compared to the death rate of 5.3 per 100,000 people in communities where less than 10% of residents are living in poverty.

Over the weekend, high temperatures put a strain on beach and park restrictions enacted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Officials stressed to the public that beaches and parks remained closed throughout Los Angeles, but that didn’t stop people from flocking to the coastline in neighboring Orange County, where some beaches were open.

“These closures are part of protecting the public’s health and helping avoid a steep rise in COVID-19 cases like the country has seen in New York City,” Santa Monica officials said in a weekend statement. “Currently, L.A. County is experiencing a more gradual increase in cases as a result of the stay at home orders and physical distancing. Residents can go outside for a walk or to a local park, but everyone is encouraged to stay close to home as much as possible.”

Officials with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Santa Monica Police Department said they focused their efforts on educating the public about the beach closures as opposed to issuing tickets. Police in beach cities south of LAX said much the same, although Manhattan Beach police reported issuing some citations to people who refused to leave the beach.

As of Sunday, more than 114,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus in L.A. County, with 14% testing positive, Ferrer said. She said 23% of those who tested positive have been hospitalized at some point during their illness.

The continuing increases in cases and deaths in nursing homes prompted the county’s health officer Friday to issue a revised order applicable to all licensed “congregate health care,” or long-term care, facilities, Ferrer said.

The order bars non-essential visitors to such facilities, allowing only essential workers to enter.

“It suspends all communal dining and activities … to make sure that there’s ample distancing among the residents who reside there,” Ferrer said. “Staff will be required to always wear surgical masks and to use personal protective equipment when it’s appropriate. And residents will also need to wear surgical masks or cloth face coverings when they’re outside of their personal room.”

Increased testing will begin Monday as part of the new health order, although those plans were announced previously due to the continued increase of cases and the knowledge that people who are unknowingly infected can spread the disease even if they have no symptoms.

The increased testing of all nursing home residents and workers, regardless of symptoms, is being done in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles. Ferrer said facilities with the most severe outbreaks will be given top priority, but all facilities will get the increased tests.

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