Medical centers are taking extra precautions while admitting patients during the pandemic. (Matthew Hall)

Nearly 50 Santa Monicans have tested positive for coronavirus, public health officials said Tuesday.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, announced 548 new cases of coronavirus Tuesday, including two new cases in Santa Monica. The total number of cases in L.A. County has tripled from 799 last Wednesday and stands at 3,011.

In Santa Monica, 49 people have tested positive for the virus, an almost threefold increase from the 18 cases reported last Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Big Blue Bus also announced that two bus operators who last worked on Friday, March 20 tested positive over the weekend.

The surge in cases over the last week is driven in part by increasing testing. Last Wednesday, only about 6,000 people had been tested. As of Tuesday, more than 19,300 people have been tested and 12% have tested positive. 

Clayton Kazan, medical director of the L.A. County Fire Department, said the county and the city of Los Angeles are working to open more testing sites to meet a goal of 10,000 tests per day. The county and city are currently conducting about 1,500 tests per day on people who are displaying symptoms of coronavirus, Kazan said.

Ferrer said Tuesday an additional 10 coronavirus patients died, bringing the county’s death toll to 54. The mortality rate remains at 1.8% and 87% of people who have died had underlying health conditions.

Four of the individuals who died were younger than 65, one of whom was younger than 41, Ferrer said. A healthcare worker older than 60 was the first reported medical professional who died in L.A. County.

She said 267 people are currently hospitalized and 594 patients have at some point been hospitalized, representing about 20% of cases. Of the 267 people in the hospital, about 65% are older than 55.  Roughly 67 individuals are in the ICU, including six people younger than 35, Ferrer said. 

Ferrer said the county has adopted new Centers for Disease Control Guidance that has redefined what it means to be a close contact of someone with coronavirus because emerging science suggests some people may be able to infect others without showing symptoms.  

“In the past, a close contact was someone who came into contact with the case while they were symptomatic,” she said. “Now, a close contact is someone who came into contact with a positive or presumed positive person within 48 hours of that person experiencing symptoms.”

Officials said Monday that two people experiencing homelessness have tested positive for the virus and one employee of a homeless shelter has also been diagnosed. Three inmates and four people working in the county jail system have tested positive.

The county is setting up 2,000 quarantine and isolation beds for people experiencing homelessness and is trying to bring 3,000 more beds online at three hotels in the next two weeks. Roughly 60,000 people in L.A. County are experiencing homelessness.

Christina Ghaly, director of the L.A. County Department of Health Services, said Monday that 1,573 hospital beds are open throughout the county, including 214 ICU beds. Hospitals are adding bed capacity to prepare for a surge of patients and the USNS Mercy navy hospital ship docked Friday, adding 1,000 beds for non-coronavirus patients.

Additionally, the Los Angeles Convention Center will be converted into a field hospital for coronavirus patients who need to be quarantined but don’t require acute care, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday.

Ghaly said there are 865 available ventilators and a backup supply of 170 additional ventilators in the county. Additional ventilators are on order.

The county received a large shipment of personal protective equipment Friday and is distributing it to hospitals, clinicians and first responders, Ghaly said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that all workers in the health care and public health fields — including retirees, students and members of disaster response teams — are encouraged to join the new California Health Corps.

Newsom also signed an executive order that will allow health care facilities to add the 50,000 beds the state needs to treat COVID-19 patients. Throughout California, 6,500 people have tested positive for coronavirus and 135 have died.

To slow the spread of coronavirus locally, Santa Monica public schools will close indefinitely and county beaches, beach bike paths and public trails will close through at least April 19, officials said last week.

City of Santa Monica parks and farmers markets are still open, but Palisades Park was closed last weekend to prevent crowding. The city’s public buildings, nonessential businesses, playgrounds, Santa Monica Pier and beach parking lots are closed through the end of April.

City Manager Rick Cole announced last week fines for individuals and businesses violating the stay at home orders that range from $100 to $1,000. Santa Monica Police Department Chief Cynthia Renaud said she has directed officers to contact, inform, educate and encourage compliance with individuals before resorting to citations.

madeleine@smdp.com

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