Los Angeles County officials said Friday, June 5, that they are closely watching numbers that could signal an increase in hospitalizations due to the coronavirus over the next two-to-four weeks — spurred, possibly, by the slow reopening of businesses and the protests against police brutality that have occurred daily for more than a week.
County health officials, during an hour-long news conference Friday afternoon, also said they may be seeing a slight uptick in the number of people one coronavirus-positive person will, in turn, infect, which experts call the “R” number.
“We don’t know precisely yet how the reopenings (of businesses and other venues) will affect that,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of Health Services for LA County. “But it appears to be greater than one and generally going up.”
Hospitals currently have enough beds for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but demand could rise as a result, officials said. Trends for that would be seen in about one-to-two weeks, they added.
Intensive care unit beds may become scarcer in about four weeks, if there’s an increase in cases because of reopening and protests.
“We’re watching that very closely,” Ghaly said. “We must do everything we can to keep the ‘R’ rate from continuing to increase.”
Those projections, though, were based on data collected before the start of the recent protests, in the wake of George Floyd, a black man, died on Memorial Day in Minnesota when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, even after Floyd lost consciousness. The daily protests have drawn anywhere from dozens of people to thousands — in places where social distancing sometimes wasn’t possible.
Health officials have continually argued that those out protesting should still follow health guidelines, such as maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from those not in your household, wearing a face covering, and washing your hands frequently. Protesters, officials have said, should carry hand sanitizer.
The updated projections came on the same day that at least two dozen protests occurred across Southern California.
Also on Friday, county health officials confirmed 36 more coronavirus-related deaths and 1,445 new cases. LA County’s death toll, as of Friday, was 2,565, with 61,045 testing positive.
The countywide numbers did not include up-to date statistics from Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments and report data separately.
Long Beach on Friday reported two more deaths and 23 new cases; the citywide death toll there is 95, with 2,183 total infections identified.
Pasadena, as of 3 p.m., had yet to post its Friday update.
But countywide, 25 of the deaths reported Friday were people over the age of 65, with 22 of those having underlying health conditions.
Nine people who died were in the 41-to-65-year-old range, six of whom had underlying conditions. One person was anywhere from 18 to 40 years old, but also had underlying health conditions, according to county officials.
One-third of those who died were residents of skilled nursing homes.
Overall, 94% of those who have so far died from coronavirus-related causes had underlying conditions, prompting officials to again stress the importance of those with health issues to take extra precautions and stay home as much as possible.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on Friday also reported that 307 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, along with 2,383 jail inmates.
While some community COVID-19 testing sites were closed temporarily earlier this week, because of concerns about protests turning from peaceful to violent — as happened last weekend — the volume of testing declined only “slightly,” Ghaly said.
Officials will continue watching the data to see if the coronavirus numbers begin to rise because of the recent reopenings and the large gatherings at regional protests.
The virus, meanwhile, continue striking some demographic groups harder than others, county officials said.
Those living in communities with higher poverty levels see almost four times the death rate of higher-income communities, said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of Public Health.
Contributing factors, the officials said, include worse access to health care and fewer available resources.
Some minority groups also have higher death rates, she said.
Of the deaths seen so far in LA County, 41% of those are Latino; 28% are white; 18% are Asian; and 12% are African American. Black people comprise 9% of the county’s overall population, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
“This amplifies why racism is a public health issue,” Ferrer said, noting that African Americans die 6-to-10 years younger than whites.
“We must,” she said, “look at the structure and root causes of institutional racism.”