Six more coronavirus deaths were reported Saturday in Los Angeles County, bringing the county's death toll to 32 as the pandemic continues to spread in large numbers.
County officials reported another 344 confirmed cases of COVID-19 -- the disease caused by the virus -- on Saturday, bringing the total to 1,804.
"We are sad to announce six additional deaths from COVID-19 today," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Public Health director. "More than ever, it is crucial that we practice social distancing, and if we are sick, even with mild illness, we make every effort to self-isolate from others for at least seven days. Those who have been in close contact with a person who is positive for COVID-19 should self-quarantine for 14 days.
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"Please do your part to not infect others or become infected yourself by adhering to the public health directives and practicing social distancing whenever you do go outside. If we all commit ourselves to stay home, stay away from others when sick, and stay six feet apart when out, we will save lives."
As the grim numbers came in, it appeared that Angelenos were adhering to the county's order to stay off beaches and nature trails to slow the spread of the virus.
"Law enforcement agencies have been reporting to us that they have no results to anything punitive,'' Los Angeles County spokesman Steve Frasher told City News Service on Saturday. "People that overlooked (the ban) or were a little clueless have been talked to and have come into compliance.
"People have been willing to do the right thing for the most part.
They just needed a gentle reminder,'' Frasher said.
Most of the county's individual coastal cities had already closed off beaches, parking lots and pathways over the last week, and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area closed of all its facilities on March 22.
County officials took the extra step of a full shutdown on Friday.
That closure is in effect until April 19.
"I ask that you help us by not going to our beaches and not going to our hiking trails, at least for the next few weeks," said Ferrer. "... Many of our parks do remain open so there are opportunities for people to go outside and enjoy our beautiful county, but only if we practice social distancing."
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger echoed the sentiment, saying, "We want you to keep enjoying the outdoor space, but please remember to use common sense.''
The county and state remain under stay-at-home orders that bar large public gatherings and mandate social distancing of at least six feet to avoid spread of the virus.
The county's mortality rate from the illness has risen above the levels seen across the country and in New York City, which has been particularly hard-hit by the virus, Ferrer said.
Of the five deaths reported by Los Angeles County on Friday, all were over the age of 60 -- four men and one woman, Ferrer said. On Thursday, the county reported nine deaths, eight of whom were also over age 60, and one in their 40s with underlying health conditions.
Ferrer noted that of the people who have tested positive for the virus in Los Angeles County, 1.8% have died. She said that is a higher mortality rate than the nation as a whole, and above that seen in New York City, which has a rate of about 1.4%.
Ferrer also identified three ``institutional settings'' -- such as nursing homes or long-term care facilities -- where outbreaks have occurred. An outbreak is defined as three or more cases among patients or staff. The three locations with outbreaks are:
-- The Kensington Redondo Beach;
-- Belmont Village in Hollywood; and
-- Alameda Care Center in Burbank.
Ferrer stressed "there have been no deficiencies identified at these facilities," saying COVID-19 "knows no boundaries" and can be "imported and exported wherever there are people.'' She said no deaths have been reported at any of the three facilities.
County officials have said there were no reports of any coronavirus cases among the area's homeless population, but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday night a homeless person is now in isolation as a potential case. He said public health officials are working to trace the person's recent contacts.
No other details were immediately released.
Garcetti also said the city has reached an agreement with parcel service UPS, which will "pay for, deliver and pick up" coronavirus tests, increasing the city's testing capacity. The mayor said the city helped conduct about 5,000 tests this weeks, and he hopes to triple that capacity next week.
Ferrer noted again that the increasing number of cases is in part indicative of increased availability of testing, but she also stressed that the virus can still be easily spread if people fail to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
On Wednesday, the county's health officer issued an order "that requires the self-isolation of any person that has tested positive for COVID-19 or is presumed by their physician or clinician to be positive for COVID-19," Ferrer said.
The order also requires a 14-day quarantine for all close contacts of a confirmed or presumed COVID-19 patient, including household members and caregivers.
"So if you've been tested for COVID-19 and you're waiting for your test results or you've been told by a provider that you should presume that you're positive for COVID-19, we ask that you follow the directives to self-isolate. This means staying at home for at least seven days and until you're fever- and symptom-free for 72 hours. Do not leave your home. Please do not leave your home unless its for a medical appointment," Ferrer said.
"We ask that you notify all of your close contacts that you have COVID-19 or are likely to have COVID-19 so your close contacts can in fact begin their quarantine," she said.
Health officials have insisted since the outbreak began that while older people, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women can suffer more severe consequences from contracting coronavirus, the threat of being diagnosed with the illness is spread across all age groups. And while younger patients may suffer lesser symptoms, they can still spread the illness to people who may become more severely ill.