The coronavirus death toll continues to mount in Los Angeles County Wednesday, with 22 more fatalities confirmed, and health officials say an initial look at race data points toward black residents having a slightly higher death rate from the virus than other ethnic group.
The 22 new fatalities increased the number of deaths in the county to 169. County health officials also reported 550 new cases, initially increasing the countywide total to 6,910.
Tuesday afternoon, officials in Long Beach — which maintains its own health department separate from the county — reported three more deaths, raising the overall county total to 172. Long Beach also reported 26 additional coronavirus cases, pushing the countywide number to 6,936.
Pasadena, which also has its own health agency, had 72 cases as of Monday. Those cases are included in the overall county figure.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, stressed that the ethnic data on the county’s fatalities is very preliminary, noting that race/ethnicity data was unavailable on 43% of the 169 people who have died in the county from the virus.
For the 93 fatalities with available information, 28% were Latinx, 27% were white, 19% were Asian, 17% were black and 9% were other ethnicities.
“When we look at these numbers by the total population of each group, African-Americans have a slightly higher rate of death than other races and ethnicities, and we will be watching this closely as we gather more information about the remaining 43% of people who have passed away,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer conceded that while testing has been increasing across the county, data indicates that wealthier communities have much better access to the tests.
“People who are living in wealthier communities have had, in fact, better access to testing and have been tested more than people living in communities where income levels are much lower,” Ferrer said. “We will be producing a complete report on what we know about access to lab testing by early next week.”
County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the county is working to expand testing access in all areas, noting that a drive-through facility will open Wednesday at East Los Angeles College.
“While not every city will get a drive-through testing site, we’re ensuring that there’s testing capacity in every region of the county,” Solis said. “And I’m also concerned about the reports coming out of other cities that show significant racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and fatalities. We must collect better data to identify and address the disparities in L.A. County.”
Of the 22 new deaths reported in the county, 16 people were over 65 and had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said. the remaining six were between 41 and 65, and five of them had existing health problems. The three deaths reported in Long Beach were one man and two women, all in their 80s with underlying health conditions.
The county’s mortality rate again crept upward, reaching 2.4%. About 14% of the 35,300 people who have been tested in the county turned out to be positive, but Ferrer again said that number is artificially inflated because some labs have not fully reported numbers of negative tests.
Ferrer said there are now 121 institutional settings — such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons — that have had at least one case. Those institutions have had a total of 552 cases and 37 deaths. Thirty cases have been reported in jail facilities, although only one involved an inmate, while the others were among staffers.
Almost all of the deaths in institutional settings occurred in nursing homes or assisted living centers. One such facility — The Kensington in Redondo Beach — has been particularly hard hit, with four deaths among residents and 22 positive cases among staff and residents. Ferrer noted that the Kensington was one of the first institutional settings to report an outbreak.
She said people who have relatives in such nursing facilities may want to consider bringing them home, if they have the ability to care for them.
Ferrer said there are 10 confirmed cases among the county’s homeless population — down from 12 she reported Monday. One of the infected people may have been living in a municipal homeless shelter, but she said health officials are still investigating the case.
Health officials have been warning that this week could be one of the most dramatic for increases in coronavirus cases, mainly based on the increased availability of testing but also due to the ability of infected people to pass the virus to multiple others before they show any symptoms of the illness or are even aware they have it.
On Monday, Ferrer urged people to avoid leaving home as much as possible, even suggesting residents forgo trips to the grocery store or other shops. In that same vein, she said Tuesday people should not be planning to attend religious gatherings this week for Passover or Easter.
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