Despite being overshadowed by a week of protests against police brutality, the coronavirus continued to claim lives in Los Angeles County, with health officials Tuesday announcing 60 new deaths and 1,202 new confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Health officials and elected office-holders in Los Angeles County have expressed fear that crowded demonstrations stemming from the death of unarmed and unresisting George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody could serve as “super spreader” events and lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.
“We urge everyone, including the people across our community who are engaging in protest, to please care for each other by practicing physical distancing as much as possible and wearing a cloth face covering when around other people. These actions are important in preventing many more cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19,” Los Angeles County public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “These actions can save lives.”
Many protesters seemed to be heeding her advice about wearing masks, but even peaceful crowds seen in videos were failing to maintain social distancing. Police officers forming lines to contain protesters also seem to be closer than six feet apart.
No news briefing was held Tuesday, but the new numbers released by the Department of Public Health brought the total of deaths to 2,443. Long Beach subsequently announced five additional deaths, pushing the total to 2,448.
The new confirmed county cases, combined with another 101 announced Tuesday afternoon by Long Beach and three by Pasadena lifted the countywide total to 57,122.
Roughly 12% of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized at some point during their illness and roughly 375 people remain in intensive care units.
Many testing sites were closed Tuesday due to public safety concerns. However, testing capacity has continued to increase countywide, with more than 633,000 individuals getting results to date and 8% of those testing positive.
Any surge related to protests probably won’t show up in the data until three or four weeks from now, given a 14-day incubation period for the coronavirus, Ferrer said Monday.
Numbers may also increase as state and county authorities allow more businesses to reopen, including dine-in restaurants and personal care businesses such as salons and barbershops. Those enterprises are allowed to reopen as soon as they can implement the required protocols for social distancing and infection control.
Higher-risk businesses, such as bars and wineries without sit-down meals must remain closed. However, many other stores that might otherwise be open were boarded up Tuesday out of fear of vandals and looters that have used some peaceful protests as an excuse for mayhem in Santa Monica, Long Beach, Beverly Hills and elsewhere. Other businesses will close early due to a countywide curfew 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesday.
While protesters, many of whom skew younger, may think themselves less vulnerable to infection and illness, the latest numbers show that nearly 38% of all COVID-19 confirmed cases in Los Angeles County are among people 18-40 years old.
Many have drawn attention to the fact that black residents have died at a higher rate from the virus, due at least in part to inequities in the health care system that create a higher rate of underlying health problems.
On Monday, Ferrer also confirmed the county’s first known case of a jail inmate dying due to the virus, and data released by the Department of Public Health Tuesday showed two deaths, one at Men’s Central Jail and one at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. DPH personnel did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.
Ferrer also announced the death of a pregnant woman, whose fetus also died, during the Monday briefing, as well as four more deaths among the county’s homeless population, raising the number of homeless who have died from the virus to 11.
Ferrer said the total number of health care workers who have contracted the virus was 5,398, up 537 from last week. She said 39 health care workers have died from the illness, up nine from last Monday.
Breakdowns for homeless individuals and health care workers were not immediately available Tuesday.
Ferrer has stressed the need for people taking part in protests — or gathering at any location — to take precautions against spreading the virus.
“We need to keep as much distance from each other when we’re out and about and we need to wear our face coverings, and that’s how we get through the pandemic,” she said. “So when we see examples where that’s not happening, its a cause for concern, and from my perspective it’s also a reminder to each of us that we can help other people remember how to be respectful and kind to each other by using those cloth face coverings.”
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