Warning that people of all ages with existing health conditions are especially susceptible to severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19, Los Angeles County’s chief medical officer said Thursday high blood pressure and diabetes were the most common underlying ailments in coronavirus patients who have died.
“About 5,500 persons have passed away from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and you can see that nearly 3,000 … had hypertension and over 2,000 — a big proportion of the deaths — had diabetes,” Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser said in an online briefing.
Roughly 92% of people who have died in the county from COVID-19 had some type of underlying health condition. In addition to hypertension and diabetes, other common conditions included cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, chronic renal disease, obesity, asthma and liver disease. Gunzenhauser noted that some people who died from the virus had more than one underlying condition.
“When you think about these diseases, you should realize these are very common,” Gunzenhauser said. “Hypertension is extremely common in the elderly, and the majority of persons over 65 may have that condition. There could be over 10% of adults in county with diabetes. Obesity is very common, etc.
“… These are people who are very healthy, well-managed through the health care system with these conditions,” he said. “The point is if they also acquire this infection, they’re really at risk of becoming very seriously ill and possibly passing away from this virus. Again, these are people that are in our communities. They go to work. They are out for shopping. They’re all around us. It may be any of us. We have a collective responsibility to protect them. That’s really what getting through COVID is all about.”
Gunzenhauser noted that while most people who died from COVID-19 and had an underlying condition were over age 65, nearly one-fourth of them were aged 41-64 and about 3% were between 18 and 40.
“People may look at the percentages and think they’re not at risk, but when you realize the millions of people in Los Angeles County that are in these age groups, even a small percent, like 3 or 5%, represents an awful lot of people,” he said. “The point is everyone is at risk.”
Gunzenhauser reiterated recent optimism about the downward trend in key coronavirus-tracking figures in the county.
“The number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths and the positivity rate have been on the decline recently, which is really good news, and we are very hopeful that those positive trends will continue in the future.”
The county had not yet released an update on coronavirus cases and deaths as of mid-afternoon Thursday.
As of Wednesday, the number of deaths in the county since the start of the pandemic was 5,396, including fatalities in Long Beach and Pasadena, which have health departments separate from the county.
The county announced 1,956 new cases on Wednesday, while Long Beach reported 83 and Pasadena added six. That increased the cumulative countywide case total to 225,916.
A total of 1,378 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Wednesday, a slight uptick from Tuesday. The number of hospitalizations has been trending downward in recent weeks, though health officials said the decline has leveled off in recent days. But the number is still well below the roughly 2,200 hospital patients seen in mid-July.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer on Wednesday said the virus continues to have a disparately high impact on Latino/a, Black and Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander residents, and also among lower-income residents. But she said recent numbers show that some progress is being made in closing the gap among ethnic groups, both in terms of new cases and deaths.
“We do have a long way to go, as you’ve seen, to reduce and eliminate the gaps that we’ve seen in COVID-19 health outcomes. But as I’ve noted, we’ve started to see some progress,” Ferrer said. “… I do think that testing and access to testing is one of the areas that I would estimate at this point has some responsibility for narrowing the gap because it allows people to be identified early on as being positive and they’re able to isolate and their close contacts are able to quarantine, which reduces community transmission as well as then further reduces transmission that may happen at workplaces.”