A Plea From LA's Top Health Official: 'We Need Everyone To Do Their Part All Of The Time'

Above: The scene today at a field hospital being set up at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. (Chava Sanchez / LAist)

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has been updating the public daily on the current confirmed cases and deaths here. Today, with 138 new cases reported, there are now more than 800 COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths in Los Angeles County alone.

That's on a day where cases in the U.S. passed 65,000.

We got the chance to go deeper with her on some sobering statistics that she laid out at the daily news briefing earlier Wednesday. Nick Roman, who hosts All Things Considered on the radio for our newsroom, asked the questions.

Q: What is the significance of all of these numbers?

Well, one of the things I was able to talk about today is the people who have been hospitalized at some point — who are positive with COVID-19 — and 20% of all positive cases have been hospitalized, which is getting a little bit higher.

1% of all of the people who have been positive here in L.A. County have died. In the United States, that mortality rate looks to be about 1.5%. But I think what's important to notice is that's a significantly higher rate of mortality than what we've experienced, usually with influenza.

You know, we've been trying to make sure people understand the seriousness of COVID-19. For example, 44 people are currently hospitalized in L.A. County, 77% of them are in the ICU. So when you get sick and you need to be hospitalized, you're often very sick.

You can imagine if we have thousands and thousands and thousands of people infected, then 1% becomes a large number. And every single person who dies like that's a story, that's a loved one. That's a person who other people care about and they're gonna miss.

I try not to ever alarm people unnecessarily. That's not never my intent, but I do want people to understand, this is a disease that causes some very serious illness and even causes death for some people. And, you know, more than ever, we've all got to do our part because the only tools in our tool kit are tools that we all have to do. You know, there's no other way around this. Everybody either helps or we continue to see dramatic increases in the numbers of cases.

Source: CDC, Drew Harris (Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR)

Q: Well, then that that brings me to this new and I guess, more strict self-isolation order that you talked about today. Give me the rundown on that.

A: It's what we call a blanket order for both isolation and quarantine.

We need people to understand that if you're diagnosed positive for COVID-19 or your provider says you should presume that you're positive, you're immediately now subject to the isolation order. You don't have to wait until we give you your own personal isolation order. Once you have that positive diagnosis or presumptive positive diagnosis, you have to understand that legally you're required to isolate for a period of seven days and three days have to be days without any fever and symptoms.

It also requires people who are positive to notify close contacts:

  • Everybody who lives with them
  • Every caregiver who's in their house
  • People who you work with
  • Anyone you've been in close spaces with.

You must quarantine if you're a close contact of a positive case or per person who's been presumed to be positive. And we can't wait for the test results. People are telling me: 'Six, seven days I've been waiting for a test result.' That entire time. They're going about their business without isolating and without telling their close contacts. And we have to put a stop to that.

That means can't go to the grocery store. You can't go to the pharmacy. You can't really leave your house, even to walk around unless you can be sure that nobody else is walking around. And that's impossible. So it really means you're stuck at home for the full period of your isolation.

Q: You know, you take that and you match it with the fact that 77% of people who are hospitalized are also in the ICU, and you can see how very quickly all of those specialized units would just get overwhelmed.

A: I know this is so hard, and I want to thank everybody who is doing their part, and that's the vast majority of people. But we need everyone to do their part. And we need everyone to do their part all of the time. And it's confusing because the situation changes on a very, very rapid basis. We are gonna use every single opportunity we can and ask everybody to adopt every single measure that we can in order to, as you said, avoid overwhelming our health care system.

ANALYSIS

(Courtesy of ProPublica)
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