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New COVID-19 Strain Confirmed In LA County; Cases Top 1 Million

(Courtesy LAC+USC Medical Center)

More than a million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, public health officials said Saturday, the same day they announced the first confirmed local case from a new variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom.

The new strain — B.1.1.7 — has an "unusually large number of mutations," according to the county's public health department. It is more contagious than the strain that first emerged in California last January, though there's still no evidence that the illness it causes is any more severe.

The person who tested positive for the new strain traveled to Oregon and is currently isolating there, according to the health department.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer called on residents to do everything they can to protect themselves and each other by adhering to safety guidelines, including wearing a mask in public and staying clear of people who aren't part of the same household.

"The presence of the U.K. variant in Los Angeles County is troubling, as our healthcare system is already severely strained with more than 7,500 people currently hospitalized. Our community is bearing the brunt of the winter surge, experiencing huge numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, five-times what we experienced over the summer. This more contagious variant makes it easier for infections to spread at worksites, at stores, and in our homes.

Though only a single case has been confirmed, health officials said they believe the virus is already spreading within the community.

Here's a snapshot of today's numbers:

  • 14,669 new cases
  • 1,003,923 total cases
  • 253 new deaths
  • 13,741 total deaths

It's likely far more people have been infected than what these totals show. A new estimate released Friday found as as much as a third of the county's 10 million residents have been infected at some point.


Here's a look at longer-term trends. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose California or any county in the state that interests you. These numbers may be delayed by a day:

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Inquest Into Andres Guardado Killing Ends Without Hearing From The Deputy Who Shot Him

Guardado's killing sparked days of angry protests. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

The coroner's office inquest into the death of 18-year-old Andres Guardado has confirmed he was shot multiple times and killed in Gardena last June. The retired justice hearing the case closed the inquest without hearing from the deputies involved or two detectives who investigated.

The findings by retired justice Candace Cooper mention that Guardado's death was not an accident and came "by the hands of another."

Miguel Vega, the deputy who shot Guardado, did not testify at the inquest. At the start of the hearing last November, Vega said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Vega's partner, Chris Hernandez, said he would invoke the Fifth if called to testify, and two detectives called to testify did invoke the constitutional protection.

Cooper said she decided not to call any more witnesses or test the Fifth Amendment claims because she already had enough evidence to make her findings.

Cooper's findings did not refer to the locations of Guardado's wounds.

A private autopsy requested by the family and the official one released by the coroner — over objections from the sheriff — found that Guardado was shot five times in the back while he was lying on the ground.

Vega's lawyer claimed Guardado had been reaching for a gun he had dropped nearby. Guardado's family disputes that, and has filed a wrongful death suit against the county.

The findings "confirmed what we knew all along," Cristobal and Elisa Guardado said in a statement released by the family's attorneys:

"We now call upon District Attorney Gascón to do what the Sheriff's Department has not, and that is to take action and hold these deputies accountable for their criminal actions ... Our family will not rest until we have justice for Andres."

Vega is off the streets after being relieved of duty in December, though not for shooting Guardado. He and Hernandez — who was also relieved of duty — are under investigation for an incident last April in which Vega crashed his patrol vehicle, allegedly while chasing a teen on a bicycle in an alley while a man they had detained under questionable circumstances was in the back seat, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The man has sued, accusing the deputies of false arrest and a coverup.

As the Times notes, the department did not investigate the April incident until a few days after Vega killed Guardado.


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