More than 50 new deaths from COVID-19 were reported in Los Angeles County Friday, and with 43% of the county's fatalities occurring in skilled nursing homes, new restrictions were imposed on all such long-term care facilities to bar visitors and ban communal activities inside.
Another 52 deaths from the coronavirus were reported Friday by Barbara Ferrer, director of the county's Department of Public Health, although that figure includes one fatality that was reported Thursday afternoon by the city of Pasadena, which has its own health agency.
Long Beach, which also has its own health agency, announced an additional two deaths, bringing that city's total to 29.
The new deaths brought the county's total to 850. Ferrer said one death that had been previously reported in the county turned out to be a resident of another jurisdiction.
Ferrer noted that 91% of the people who have died from the illness in the county had underlying health conditions.
Ferrer also reported another 1,035 confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the overall total to 18,517. Pasadena subsequently reported another six cases, while Long Beach added 22 more, lifting the overall county total to 18,545.
A total of 293 institutional settings -- including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons -- have had at least one case. Those institutions have accounted for a total of 5,339 cases, and 365 deaths, representing 43% of all coronavirus fatalities in the county. The vast majority of those deaths were residents of skilled nursing facilities, where testing is being ramped up beginning Monday to include all residents and staff regardless of whether they are showing any symptoms.
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The continuing increases in cases and deaths in nursing homes prompted the county's health officer Friday to issue a revised order applicable to all licensed "congregate health care," or long-term care, facilities, Ferrer said.
The order bars non-essential visitors to such facilities, allowing only essential workers to enter.
"It suspends all communal dining and activities … to make sure that there's ample distancing among the residents who reside there," Ferrer said. "Staff will be required to always wear surgical masks and to use personal protective equipment when it's appropriate. And residents will also need to wear surgical masks or cloth face coverings when they're outside of their personal room."
She said the increased testing that will begin Monday is also part of the new health order, but those plans were announced previously due to the continued increase of cases and the knowledge that people who are unknowingly infected can spread the disease even if they have no symptoms.
The increased testing of all nursing home residents and workers, regardless of symptoms, is being done in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles. Ferrer said facilities with the most severe outbreaks will be given top priority, but all of the homes will get the increased tests.
Nursing homes have been a concern since the outbreak began, given the close confines of the patients and staff. This week, members of the California National Guard were deployed to four nursing homes in the county to assist with operations, mainly due to a lack of adequate staffing as a result of the virus' spread.
"We didn't request the National Guard, but we requested help," Ferrer said. "And the National Guard was great. We did ask the state to help us with staffing. The easiest thing for them to do was deploy the National Guard and we're extraordinarily grateful that they did. And they continue to provide us with support."
As of Friday, more than 108,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the county, with 15% testing positive, Ferrer said.
Ferrer announced Thursday that an average of 44 people had died of the coronavirus over the previous 12 days, making COVID-19 the leading cause of death in the county, topping the flu, lung disease and heart disease.
Of the 848 people who have died of coronavirus in the county, ethnic data was available for 771 people. Of them, 37% were Latinx, 28% white, 18% Asian, 15% black, 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 1% other.
Included in the county's more than 18,500 cases are 100 homeless people, the majority of them due to an outbreak that remains under investigation at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Ferrer said the county is still awaiting some test results from the facility, but officials said earlier this week that at least 56 people had tested positive, and one staff member has died.