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Q&A: Top LA County Public Official Cautions To Expect 1K New Cases A Day

A worker gathers tests administered from a car as Mend Urgent Care hosts drive-thru testing for the COVID-19 virus at the Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks on Monday. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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We talked to Barbara Ferrer about where we are in the local effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, part of our regularly scheduled weekday check-ins with the director of L.A. County's Public Health Department.

Here's are excerpts from what she told me today (you can listen to the full interview below):

Q: I know it's a tough day. We had a big increase today in the number of deaths and the number of new cases that followed relatively low numbers that we talked about on Monday. So how should we interpret today's numbers?

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A: I think today's numbers are real in terms of what we should be expecting. You know, oftentimes, over the weekend there's a lot less testing that goes on. So our numbers on Sunday and Monday tend to be relatively low, and then they tend to pick up on Tuesday and stay up, at about the same rate for the week...

I do think even with the increase in the cases today and and the larger number of deaths, all of the efforts that everyone's making here in L.A. County are definitely making a difference. I don't want folks to get disheartened. I don't want folks to be discouraged. We've always predicted that as soon as we saw more testing we were going to see more cases, and we actually think our cases will probably get up to about 1,000 a day for at least a week or two weeks while we ramp up testing and before we actually are able to get to the other side of the pandemic.

Q: You know, Barbara, lot of talk today about what it will look like when we gradually ease the stay-at-home orders. In your news conference today, you said the county will focus its efforts in the next few weeks on four areas:
  1. The ability to provide routine medical care in addition to COVID-19 care
  2. The ability to protect the most vulnerable from coronavirus infections
  3. Widespread testing and isolation of the infected
  4. The ability to continue physical distancing at businesses and schools

And then the governor released the state framework that includes six guidelines that he says he'll be following. How do you see the county and the state guidelines working together?

A: I think they're pretty close. I didn't have the governor's speaking points before I talked today, but I did look at them when I got back to my office. You know, I think all along we've been really lucky in the state that we have a close collaboration across the counties and with the state governor and with our mayors here... and with the Board of Supervisors. Everyone's aligned with the same focus...

Ferrer went on to tell me that we need a combination of physical distancing strategies, testing, quarantine and isolation until we have a lot of good treatment options, or at a minimum one or two good treatments. Ultimately, she said the goal is to get "closer and closer to having a vaccine."
That doesn't mean that we don't get to reopen. We have to make sure that our economy is able to come back and with all the vibrancy that we would love to see. But we have to do that in a way that doesn't end up causing a lot more death and an overwhelming of the health care system, because then we're back where we were. We're back with the need to close down.

Listen to my full conversation with Ferrer which ran on our newsroom's afternoon magazine show, All Things Considered, which I host for 89.3 KPCC.

Megan Erwin contributed to this report.