Los Angeles County officials said Friday skilled nursing facilities, which have become the site of 43% of coronavirus-related deaths in the county, will be required to test symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and employees.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said nursing homes will also be required to limit entry to essential workers, suspend communal dining activity and require residents to wear masks in common areas. The county is investigating 5,339 cases across 293 institutional settings, a significant increase that Ferrer attributed to increased testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and staff. Any individual in an institutional setting who tests positive must be isolated and their close contacts quarantined, she said.

“We used to just recommend, even in places where we were noticing outbreaks, that it was symptomatic people who needed to be tested,” Ferrer said. “But with all of the recent literature and our experience in here in L.A. County, it’s become really clear that asymptomatic people are in fact both infected with the virus and … capable of infecting others. It’s really important to acknowledge this new reality.”

On Thursday, the county confirmed nine deaths at two nursing homes in Santa Monica.

Six patients of the Rehabilitation Center of Santa Monica and three patients of Beachwood Post-Acute & Rehab Center died of COVID-19.

As of Friday, twenty-one patients and 10 staff have tested positive for coronavirus at the Rehabilitation Center. Beachwood has 20 confirmed cases among patients and 11 among employees.

Additionally, four residents of The Manor, a residential care facility for adults with mental illnesses, three patients at Ocean Pointe Healthcare Center, and four staff and two patients at Brentwood Healthcare Center have tested positive.

It is unknown how many of the 75 staff and residents of the five local institutions with outbreaks permanently reside in Santa Monica and therefore count toward its official tally of cases or deaths. City of Santa Monica officials said earlier this week that they had not been notified of any deaths among residents.

Beachwood administrator Anton Novitsky said the facility started restricting visitors to essential medical staff and screening everyone who entered the facility in early March. Surgical masks were issued to each worker who entered the facility and residents displaying symptoms were tested.

On April 1, Beachwood designated its second floor as a COVID-19 unit and began issuing face shields, isolation gowns and N95 masks to workers in the isolation ward, Novitsky said.

A spokesperson for the Rehabilitation Center of Santa Monica said the facility had implemented federal and state guidelines regarding COVID-19 to protect its employees and patients.

“We are working closely with public health authorities and will continue to work diligently in implementing our COVID-19 infection control policies and procedures, including restricting outside visitors, contracting with an outside service for an in-depth disinfecting of the center, providing personal protective equipment to our employees along with our residents when they leave their individual rooms, and numerous other initiatives,” a spokesperson said.

The Manor did not respond to a request for comment, and Ocean Pointe could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ferrer announced 1,035 new coronavirus cases Friday, three of which were in Santa Monica. The county has 18,517 cases and the city has 147. Across the county, 108,000 people have been tested and 15% have tested positive.

The number of cases in Santa Monica rose by 32% over the last week after increasing by 21% the week before.

An additional 52 deaths were reported Friday, bringing the death toll in L.A. County to 848. Nine in 10 people who have died had underlying health conditions.

Of the 97% of individuals who have died from COVID-19 for which demographic information is available, 37% were Latino, 28% were white, 18% were Asian, 15% were African American, 1% were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 1% identified with another race.

The county population is nearly 47% Latino, 26% white, more than 15% Asian, 9% African American and 0.4% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

On Friday, Sup. Kathryn Barger outlined the four benchmarks the county must achieve before it can start relaxing the stay-at-home order.

The county must have enough capacity in the health care system to accommodate a potential surge in cases, have protections in place for at-risk individuals and communities, increased capability to test, isolate and trace confirmed cases, and maintain physical distancing.

Because COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death in L.A. County and more than 1,000 cases are being confirmed each day, Ferrer said residents should continue to stay home as much as possible. Although the weather is warming up, beaches and trails remain closed, she said.

“If we actually start seeing declines … in the number of cases and (deaths), we’ll feel a lot more secure that we can go ahead and start implementing our recovery plans,” Ferrer said. “We’re as hopeful as all of you that that day is coming relatively soon.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state will launch a program in which the federal government will pay restaurants to provide three meals a day to seniors who are at risk for COVID-19 or have limited income. Local officials will help organize which restaurants and employees participate.

Ferrer said the county will soon release a list of restaurants where five or more staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

“If people are known to be positive, we’ve been clear since the beginning that you should not be preparing or serving food,” she said. “I think people can continue to safely get pickup and takeout from their favorite restaurants, and we’ll work with all of them to make sure they implement all of the infection control processes.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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