A day after the nation surpassed the jolting milestone of 500,000 lives lost to the pandemic, Los Angeles County surpassed its own grim milestone on Tuesday, Feb. 23 — 20,000 COVID-19-related deaths.
The county reported another 157 deaths on Tuesday. For the family and friends of the 20,057 people claimed by the outbreak — fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and grandparents … nurses, doctors, teachers, law officers, grocery workers and so many more — that number is very real and very painful.
Roughly half of those deaths occurred in the past two months, spurred by the winter surge that pushed local hospitals to the limit and jammed mortuaries and morgues.
Officials also reported 2,091 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,183,378 since the nearly year-old pandemic surfaced here last March.
COVID claimed Dennis Bullock, a Torrance resident, at the age of 78, weeks ago, in December. His loved ones still mourn the gap his passing left in their family.
“We are never going to fill that hole,” said his son, Matt Bullock.
“He consistently put the needs of my mom, his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids ahead of his own,” Matt said of his father, who served in the Navy and worked for American Airlines.
The illness gripped the Bullock family for months, after Dennis was diagnosed back in July. He is deeply misssed.
“He had this intuitiveness and ability to figure things out and teach things,” said his son, “and he did everything himself.”
“As we mark this heartbreaking day and note with sadness the loss of over 20,000 County residents, we mourn with all of you who have lost someone you love to COVID-19. We are deeply sorry for your loss, and wish you healing and peace,” county Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday.
The county’s daily update did not include the latest figures from Long Beach and Pasadena, cities that operate their own health departments. Death new fatalities increased Pasadena’s death toll to 309, while 22 more cases pushed the total to 10,805. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Long Beach had not updated its totals. On Monday, the city surpassed 800 coronavirus-related deaths and reported a total of 50,855 cases since the pandemic began.
Yet, amid those sad statistics, signs of hope endured Tuesday.
A total of 2,064 people remained in hospitals with COVID-19 with 619 in intensive care units, a steep decline from more than 8,000 patients in early January.
Also, the county’s daily case rate fell to 12.3 new cases per 100,000 people and the test positivity rate was 5.1%, low enough to allow high school football and other outdoor sports to resume. The county met the required threshold, dropping below 14 cases per 100,000 people.
High schools and junior highs, meanwhile, will still need to wait for cases to drop below seven per 100,000 and test positivity below 8% to reopen based on state guidelines.
Grade schools and private schools teaching grades pre-kindergarten to sixth grade are already allowed to open under guidance that allows in-classroom learning when rates drop below 25 cases per 100,000 people. The maximum number of students on campus must still remain below 25% capacity.
Roughly 300 campuses have reopened at least partially under preexisting waivers. Many others have summitted plans to reopen and others are waiting until after March 1, when teachers become eligible for vaccination.
Nonetheless, L.A. County health officials urged residents and businesses to adhere to county health orders, requiring facemasks in public settings, social distancing and limited capacity in stores, churches and other settings,
Despite gains the county has made, the county remains remains in the most restrictive purple tier in California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” and inspectors are still out enforcing those rules.
From Feb 14 to Feb 18, a total of 36 citations were issued to businesses including restaurants, food markets, gyms, personal care salons, and shopping malls for noncompliance with health officer orders, officials said,
Since the end of August, a total of 1,025 citations were issued, according to the Department of Public Health.
“As more and more of our county residents return to businesses and school, it’s important to remember that the actions we all take today will affect the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths several weeks from now,” Ferrer said. “As we continue to bear witness to the devastating loss of life from COVID-19, we ask that everyone continue to use the tools we know work to slow the spread of the virus: wear a mask and keep six feet of distance anytime you are around others not in your household. This virus is still easily transmitted among people in contact with each other and we must do all we can to continue the momentum of the decreases we are seeing cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”
City News Service and staff writer Olga Grigoryants contributed to this report.