Public health officials warned that this week will be critical for understanding the trajectory of the coronavirus outbreak in Los Angeles County as they announced 422 new cases Monday.
Six of those new cases were in Santa Monica and the total number of cases in the city now stands at 74, a 50% increase over the last seven days. The virus spread more slowly last week than the week prior, when cases nearly tripled from 18 to 49.
The number of cases across the county doubled over the last week to 6,360. More than 32,000 people have been tested as of Sunday, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
Warning that the outbreak could intensify this week if people with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic leave their homes and infect others, Ferrer urged county residents Monday not to go to grocery stores or pharmacies this week and have supplies delivered instead, particularly if they are older than 65 or have underlying health conditions.
She also recommended that people wear non-medical face coverings, which she said prevent people from infecting others but do not lower the wearer’s risk of infection.
“If you have enough supplies in your home, this would be the week to skip shopping altogether,” she said. “If every one of those 6,000 people can infect two to three other people, you can see why we’re worried that if we don’t take every possible precaution, numbers could start skyrocketing.”
Ferrer announced 15 deaths, 12 of which occurred in people older than 65. Seven of those 12 elderly individuals had underlying conditions. The three other people who died were between 41 and 65 and one of them had underlying conditions.
In total, nearly 150 people have died, 76% of whom were older than 65.
“To everyone who is facing a future without a person they love, we are sorry for your loss,” Ferrer said Monday.
Ferrer said the county is investigating 512 cases among staff and residents of 109 institutional settings. Twenty-two employees and nine inmates in county jails and prisons have tested positive. Two homeless shelter employees and 12 people experiencing homelessness have been diagnosed, including one individual who may have lived in a shelter while they were infectious.
In Santa Monica, The Manor, The Rehabilitation Center of Santa Monica and Beachwood Post-Acute and Rehab have at least one confirmed coronavirus case and are under investigation.
More than 900 people are currently hospitalized for coronavirus, Ferrer said. Christina Ghaly, director of the L.A. County Department of Health Services, said there are 1,600 open hospital beds across the county, including 318 ICU beds.
Ghaly said the state and county will on April 13 open a 266-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients with serious symptoms at the former St. Vincent Medical Center near downtown Los Angeles. Dignity Health and Kaiser Permanente will help operate the facility, which will accept transfer patients from other hospitals.
Public drive-through testing sites are open to people who are older than 65 or have underlying conditions, Ghaly said, including one at the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration.
As a global shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment forces medical workers to abandon some safety protocols while treating COVID-19 patients, some Santa Monica nurses who previously complained that they were being told to reuse PPE said the situation has not improved even though their hospital has since received more masks.
Jacob Childs, a nurse in the COVID-19 unit of Providence St. John’s Health Center, said hospital management has continued to tell nurses to wear surgical masks, not N95 masks, while treating patients, despite telling nurses that the hospital has an adequate supply of N95 masks. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization that medical personnel working directly with coronavirus patients should wear N95 masks, Childs said.
He said the hospital is also not allowing workers to use 13,000 K95 masks that Lakers assistant general manager Jesse Buss donated to St John’s last week.
“The reason they’re not giving is those is because they say they’re stockpiling them as a last resort because they’re not N95s, but CDC guidelines say because of the global PPE shortage, K95s are okay to use,” Childs said.
The Providence St. Joseph Health System, a 51-hospital system that includes St. John’s, received 2 million surgical masks but no N95 masks last week, said spokesperson Patricia Aidem. Each medical worker receives a surgical mask when they enter a facility, she said.
“It’s no secret our country and the world do not have an infinite supply of equipment and everyone is being asked to conserve so the front-line caregivers can safely and effectively treat their patients,” Aidem said. “We are advocating for all our caregivers to conserve their usage and to avoid waste.”