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Coronavirus count climbs

LOS ANGELES — With 266 new cases being reported over a 48-hour period March 23-25, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County has grown to almost 800.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said 138 new cases were reported March 25, including three more deaths. The three deaths were reported in people over the age of 65 and with underlying health conditions. One resided in Gardena, one in Wilmington and the other case is still under investigation.

“This brings the number of deaths to 13 in L.A. County,” said Dr. Ferrer, who added they are no longer counting the death of a “young person” reported March 24 while waiting for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to complete an investigation.

According to Dr. Ferrer, 80% of all positive cases in the county are happening among people between the ages of 18-65 with 40% occurring in younger people between the ages of 18-40. She said 160 people who have tested positive have, at some point in time, been hospitalized.

“This amounts to 20% of all of our positive cases,” Dr. Ferrer said during a daily media briefing March 25. “One percent of people in L.A. County who have been diagnosed as positive with covid-19 have, in fact, passed away. And in the United States, the mortality rate is at about 1.5%. This is a higher rate than what we experience annually with influenza.”

Forty-four people are currently hospitalized and 77% of those people are in the intensive care unit. Of those hospitalized, Dr. Ferrer said four are in their 30s and 26 are 60 or older. Sixty percent of those in ICU are over the age of 60.

The Public Health Department is investigating all new cases and will notify close contacts who are household members, intimate partners, and health care professionals to assess and monitor them for signs and symptoms of illness. All confirmed cases are isolated and close contacts are quarantined. 

“Our hearts go out to each and every family affected by the unfortunate deaths and serious illness associated with COVID-19,” Dr. Ferrer said. “Please help us reduce the number of people with serious illness by doing your part. Social distancing is hard — so take advantage of some of the activities offered by our county departments like virtual workouts, e-books and virtual story hours for kids through the library, virtual museum tours by Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and services from the Department of Mental Health for those who may be feeling stressed, depressed or anxious during this difficult time.”

As of March 25, new health officer orders are being issued to ensure that individuals who test positive for COVID-19, and those who are told by a clinician they are presumed to be positive for COVID-19 are required to self-isolate for a period of seven days and three days of being symptom-free. 

For those who have been in close contact with someone who is positive or presumed positive, they must quarantine themselves for 14 days from their last exposure to that person.

According to Dr. Ferrer,  people who are mildly sick should stay home for at least seven days or until 72 hours after being fever free, whichever is longer. They should call a doctor if they are concerned and/or their symptoms worsen. The elderly who have underlying health conditions and women who are pregnant should consider contacting their providers earlier when they are sick.

With the number of covid-19 cases growing exponentially, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Mike Feuer have reemphasized the importance of the “Safer at home” order which requires Angelenos to remain in their homes except for the most essential activities — including critical tasks such as securing food and health, safety and medical necessities, as well as caring for children, elder adults, family, friends, and people with disabilities. Failure to heed the order is now a misdemeanor that can result in fines or jail time. 

“We’re all safer at home, and that’s not a suggestion — it is the law,” Mayor Garcetti said. “Refusing to follow it isn’t brave or funny — it’s stupid and could wind up killing you or someone else. Angelenos are doing an extraordinary job of staying in their homes, and we won’t tolerate the selfish behavior of a few who unnecessarily put our community at risk.”

In the “strongest possible terms,” Feuer urged Angelenos to adhere to the order and for non-essential businesses to shut their doors.

“Those crucial steps protect all of us,” Feuer said “As part of the city team, my office’s neighborhood prosecutors will work toward gaining compliance with the order, helping ensure that our families are safe.”

With the city receiving daily reports of non-essential businesses continuing to operate despite orders to remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Garcetti said he will step up enforcement action.

Only critical businesses supporting infrastructure and public health and safety, such as hospitals and medical facilities, health care workers and emergency responders, internet and telecommunications companies, grocery stores and restaurants (takeout and delivery only) and the like can remain open.

Garcetti had a strong message for non-essential businesses that have remained open.

“This behavior is irresponsible and selfish,” Garcetti said, speaking via remote live stream for his daily briefing on the pandemic March 24. “It may serve a few people for a moment, but it will put all of us at risk for a long time.”

Garcetti said enforcement actions will start with verbal warnings and requests for voluntary compliance. If a business still fails to cooperate, the city will shut off the business’ water and power.

“You know who you are, you need to stop it,” Garcetti said. “This is your chance to step up and to shut it down because if you don’t, we will shut you down.”

Garcetti assured residents that the city will not take the same approach — shutting off water and power — for residences.

According to Garcetti, the city is asking businesses to comply and encouraging local residents to call 311 to report non-essential businesses that are refusing.

The city is also launching a “Safer at Home Business Ambassadors Program” with city workers and volunteers from the mayor’s Crisis Response Team. Together with LAPD officers, these team members will visit non-essential businesses that are refusing to comply for the purpose of “obtaining voluntary compliance.” This team will share information on repeat offenders with the LAPD, which could ultimately result in citations.

Neighborhood prosecutors with the city attorney’s office, who help enforce public health and safety measures and cover every police station in the city, also will be contacting businesses to warn them of violations before escalating to stronger enforcement. Repeat offenders can ultimately face misdemeanor charges. 

Joining other cities and county agencies that have shut down public trails and beach parking, Garcetti said L.A. and Santa Monica are closing the Santa Monica Stairs, a popular spot for workouts.

Garcetti said the city was anywhere from six to 12 days away from the fate of New York City, where a surge in patients with the novel coronavirus is threatening to overwhelm the health system. 

In an effort to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Garcetti has a plan to quickly shelter thousands of Angelenos experiencing homelessness; restrictions placed on bars, nightclubs, restaurants, movie theaters, entertainment venues, bowling alleys and arcades, gyms and fitness centers; and limits on public gatherings in city facilities. 

The mayor also has taken several steps to support residents and businesses during the local emergency — including placing a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions and water and power shutoffs, and an economic relief package for businesses impacted by the pandemic.