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County Health Officials Urge Social Distancing as Weather Beckons

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By Jorge Casuso

April 22, 2020 -- With a string of balmy days in store for Southern California, Los Angeles health officials on Wednesday urged residents to continue observing health protocols to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The warning not to relax social distancing measures came as health officials confirmed 1,318 new cases on Wednesday -- many due to an ongoing backlog of reported lab tests -- and 66 deaths.

There were four new cases in Santa Monica, bringing the total to 139, according to data from the County Public Health Department.

“We know that with the return of beautiful weather we all want to be outside -- and it is fine do so -- as long as you are not gathering with others," said County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

"Enjoy a walk or a jog, or sit outside and enjoy the sunshine at your home," Ferrer said. "Our beaches and trails remain closed as we continue to work together to slow the spread."

To date, 3,902 of the 16,435 persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 -- or 24 percent -- have been hospitalized at some point during their illness, health officials said.

There were 1,791 coronavirus patients still being treated at hospitals in L.A. County on Wednesday, Ferrer said.

Thirty percent are in intensive care and 19 percent are on ventilators. Ferrer said.

The County should have enough hospital and ICU beds, as well as respirators, if residents continue to abide by stay-at-home orders and maintain social distancing when in public, health officials said.

New infections "are not yet decreasing," said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the LA County Department of Health Services.

If the distancing practices that are in place are maintained, the projected overall infection rate for the County of 10 million could be kept to about 11 percent by August 1, Ghaly said.

If they are completely relaxed, the number would soar to 96 percent by that date, she said.

“I know a lot of us are feeling the weight of these restrictions," Ghaly said. "But please know that your actions have saved lives and are protecting the lives and health of those around you and those you love. This will end.”

Some epidemiologists, however, contend that lockdowns and social distancing that flatten the curve prolong the virus because they don't allow immunity to develop at a natural rate ("Santa Monica Sees One-Day Jump in Coronavirus Cases as County Curve Flattens," April 10, 2010).

They warn that this could strain the hospital system even further when the flu season hits in November.

Instead, they say the focus should be on protecting the most vulnerable -- the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions -- while lifting restrictions on the rest of the population.

To date, nearly 90 percent of the 729 persons who have died in LA County had underlying health conditions and some 40 percent were in institutional settings, mostly nursing homes.

Of the 66 persons whose deaths were reported Wednesday, 49 had underlying health conditions and 48 were over 65, health officials said.

The County has not released similar information for those who have been hospitalized.

The extent of the virus in LA County remains unclear, but health officials say a recent anti-body test indicates it is far more widespread and far less deadly than previously thought ("Coronavirus Fatality Rate "Much Lower" Than Previously Thought, LA County Health Officials Say," April 20, 2020).

Most of those who have been infected have not been tested and have shown mild or no symptoms.

On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom said testing capacity must be increased before California's stay-at-home order can be modified.

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