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County reports second coronavirus death

LOS ANGELES — A second person has died in Los Angeles County due to the coronavirus, the county’s public health director announced March 19, while the overall number of cases increased by 40, plus two more cases reported by Long Beach officials.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the county Department of Public Health, said only that the person who died was between 30 and 50 years old and had an unspecified underlying health condition. The person lived in a “small community” near Pasadena.

“I want to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the person who’s deceased,” Ferrer said. “I’m so sorry for your loss and I hope you know that we as a community are mourning with you.”

Ferrer did not identify the patient, but relatives told TMZ the man was 34-year old Jeffrey Ghazarian of Glendora. The family said he became sick during a trip to Orlando, Florida, where he visited Disney World and Universal Studios.

The family posted on his Facebook page, “Our sweet, loving, fun Jeffrey went to be with Jesus this morning. He suffered a lot and put up a good fight. We will miss our Jeff every day but we are thankful for all the fun happy memories of the times we had together.”

According to Facebook posts by the family, Ghazarian tested positive for coronavirus on March 13 and was admitted to a hospital the next day.

Ferrer reported 40 additional cases in the county, bringing the total to 230. The city of Long Beach — which maintains its own health department — reported two more cases that were not immediately included in the county’s figures, meaning there are a total of 232 cases countywide. Long Beach has reported a total of 12 cases, three of whom have already recovered.

Ferrer stressed that the county is going to see continued increases in cases over the next four to 12 weeks.

“But that doesn’t mean that the important actions that you’re all taking to combat this virus are not working,” she said. “Social distancing is critical and we implore you to take seriously everyone’s obligation to limit their exposures to others and to limit others from being exposed to you. This is the one way that we can all be serious about what it means to try to slow down the increasing number of cases here in the county.”

Ferrer also gave an ominous warning, saying, “As a general rule of thumb, you should assume that you may be infected and that others around you may be infected.”

“Therefore, act accordingly,” she said. “Take every precaution possible to avoid infecting others and to avoid becoming infected. That’s the goal of social distancing.”

She noted the number of cases will continue to rise in part because of the increased availability of testing, with seven labs operating with multiple sites. But she stressed that while lab availability is increasing, it remains limited.

According to Ferrer, about 21% of people tested at the county lab wind up being positive for coronavirus, while the rate in commercial labs is running about 10%.

She said she understands the public desire for “universal testing,” but said people need to talk to their doctor, and the doctor will determine if a test is warranted. She said limited testing availability should be reserved for those who most need it.

“Even if you’re identified as a person who had close contact with a confirmed case, and you have no symptoms, you don’t need to be tested,” Ferrer said. “If you’re the contact of a person who is a close case, you have to quarantine for 14 days. You have to. It’s a mandatory order.”

On March 18, Dr. Christina Ghaly, who runs the county hospital system, echoed the point that some infected individuals — who may not have any symptoms at all — are walking around unaware they have the virus.

“People should assume that those they come into contact with might be positive for the virus,” Ghaly said.

The next day, Ghaly again noted a critical shortage of blood supplies, encouraging people to donate. She said there is no clinical evidence that the coronavirus can be spread through the blood.

Ferrer also issued a stern warning to younger residents to heed the warnings against public gatherings, saying this is not the time to “have a party at your house” or gather with a group of people at the beach.

“This virus has infected thousands and thousands of people all across the world, and a large number of them are people that are young,” she said.

Ferrer said the pandemic “has a human side, and that human side really asks us all to do our best to take care of each other and take care of ourselves.”

She said anyone feeling “stressed and overwhelmed” can call a 24-hour support hotline operated by the county Department of Mental Health at (800) 854-7771.