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11 More Deaths In LA County; Public Could Be Advised To Wear Masks Soon

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Another 11 people have died because of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, and public health officials here caution that new guidance may be forthcoming soon that could call on the public to wear a mask whenever leaving home.

The new information came from Barbara Ferrer, the county's public health director, who spoke at the daily briefing of the county's coronavirus task force.

Nine of the people who died were over 65, and seven of those nine had underlying health conditions. Of the other two people who died, one was aged 18-40 and the other was 41-65. Both had underlying health conditions.

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That brings the total number of deaths locally to 65, including seven deaths in "institutional settings," as Ferrer put it. The majority of these institutional deaths occurred at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and an extended care facility.

NEW NUMBERS

  • 1.8% is the current mortality rate. That's deaths as a share of positive cases — keep in mind the number of people who are actually sick is likely much higher than those who have tested positive, because of testing limitations. The true number of infections would likely bring the mortality rate down.
  • 88% had underlying conditions among those who have died
  • 513 new cases in L.A. County, with more than 1,000 just in the last 48 hours
  • 3,518 total cases to date in L.A. County
  • 733 people have been hospitalized, or 21% of all positive cases
  • 20% of people currently hospitalized are in the ICU — 55% of people in ICU have underlying health conditions and 36% are 65 years or older
  • 4 people in ICU are younger than 35, and 3 of those have underlying health conditions
  • 207 confirmed cases in "institutional settings" — 148 residents and 96 staff
  • More than 21,000 people have been tested in L.A. County

TIME TO WEAR A MASK?

Ferrer said she expects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may soon start recommending that everyone wear a mask whenever going out. However, that does not mean everyone should rush out to buy specialized N95 masks. These should be reserved for health care workers who need them most, she said. Instead, the general public will most likely be asked to rely on homemade masks, bandanas and the like.

A fabric mask does not provide the same level of protection as a surgical mask, but it can prevent droplets from escaping and potentially infecting others, so it can help to reduce risk, Ferrer said.

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Public health officials have until now avoided issuing a blanket recommendation to wear a mask. Part of the reason for the shift may have to do with the growing concern that asymptomatic individuals could be unknowingly transmitting the disease to others. Ferrer has said that more scientific studies are suggesting that people who have the virus and don't feel any symptoms can still be infectious.

As such, Ferrer said the county's new position is to notify — and ask anyone who's sick to notify — everyone the sick person came into contact with up to 48 hours before the onset of their symptoms. That means if you started feeling sick today, you would need to consider everyone you'd come in close contact with since Monday.

Ferrer said as soon as the CDC issues its guidance on masks, the county will follow with its own.

Correction: A previous version of this story gave an inaccurate count of the number of deaths in L.A. County. As of Wednesday, 65 people have died after contracting COVID-19, according to health officials. LAist regrets the error.

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