On a day that saw statewide protests calling for the lifting of stay-at-home restrictions, dozens more COVID-19 deaths were reported in Los Angeles County Friday and health officials warned that people with the virus can spread it longer than originally thought.
The county's death toll from the coronavirus rose to 1,174 on Friday, with county health director Barbara Ferrer announcing 54 new cases, along with eight more that were reported Thursday afternoon by the Pasadena municipal health agency. Pasadena reported another two deaths Friday afternoon.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, 92% of the people who died from the virus had underlying health conditions, and the virus continued to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
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For the 1,065 deaths for which data was available, 38% were Latinx, 29% white, 19% Asian, 13% black and 1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
Ferrer also announced 1,065 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, while Long Beach health officials reported another 42 and Pasadena added five more. The new cases lifted the county's overall total to 24,262.
Los Angeles County continues to represent about half of the cases and deaths across the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier Friday that the state had crossed the grim milestone of 2,000 overall deaths, with a total of 2,073. As of Friday, the state as a whole had 50,442 confirmed cases.
Citing new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ferrer said people who test positive for the virus or are believed to be positive must now isolate themselves for 10 days, plus an additional 72 hours after symptoms dissipate. The previous guidance called for seven days of isolation, plus 72 symptom-free hours.
"There's new evidence that suggests that the virus may shed for a longer period of time, which means that a person may be able to infect other people for a longer period of time than was initially thought," she said.
"If you now test positive for COVID-19 or you've been told by your provider that you're likely to be positive for the virus, you need to immediately self-isolate," Ferrer said. "And this means staying home and staying away from all other people and pets as much as possible all of the time. Please do not prepare or serve meals for your family, and please don't share utensils, cups or food with others. If you're a caregiver it would be important for you to find someone else in your family to perform daily activities that have you in close contact with others."
Ferrer said there have now been 182 confirmed coronavirus cases among the county's homeless population, the majority of them occurring among people who were housed at the Union Rescue Mission on downtown L.A.'s Skid Row, where an outbreak was confirmed in mid-April.
She also said there have been 106 known instances of pregnant women who tested positive. According to Ferrer, 26 of those women have completed their pregnancies and successfully gave birth.
She said the county is investigating confirmed or suspected cases at 316 institutional settings, including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons.
There have been a total of 5,658 cases at such institutional settings, and 564 residents have died, representing 48% of all COVID-19 deaths in the county. The majority of people who have died in institutional settings lived in skilled nursing facilities, Ferrer said.
She said there have been 526 cases in federal prisons, the vast majority at the Terminal Island prison in San Pedro, where five inmates have died.
County officials delivered their daily update while just blocks away, hundreds of protesters gathered in the downtown Civic Center area, many of them calling for a lifting of stay-at-home restrictions and a reopening of businesses. Others rallied for economic support for street vendors. Another group planned to rally Friday afternoon outside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's home, calling for a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic. Additional protests were held in Orange County, Sacramento and other locations.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger had harsh words for some of the Los Angeles protesters, noting that many were not wearing masks and were "literally on top of each other."
"It actually, to me, makes the argument that the governor was making, and that is when you don't socially distance and you don't practice safe social distancing, you are contributing to the spread of this virus, and it is going to take us a lot longer (to lift restrictions)," she said.
Ferrer also cautioned people to continue adhering to the social- distancing orders, warning that the virus is very much alive.
"The conditions we faced in February and March and April haven't changed significantly," she said. "We still have a new virus that is easily spread among people who are in close contact with each other. Ninety-five percent of us have still not been infected and until there's a vaccine, most residents in L.a. County can be infected at any time over the months to come.
"Recovery will help us get people back to work, but without taking extraordinary measures to reduce our exposures to people who are infected and to keep our distance as much as possible, we could easily see a big spike in new cases."