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As L.A. coronavirus deaths pass 2,000, the risk remains high



As large swathes of California began to reopen malls, restaurants and other businesses this week, the coronavirus threat in Los Angeles County is still high as the death toll surpassed 2,000 people Thursday.

More than 40 of California’s 58 counties have now been approved to expand retail operations as their virus conditions improve, and more are expected to reopen their economies in the coming days.

But officials expect that progress will be slower in Los Angeles County, accounting for nearly 60% of the state̵

7;s total deaths and nearly half of the more than 86,000 confirmed infections. The county’s death toll rose to 2,016 on Thursday with more than 42,000 confirmed cases.

“This is a very sad milestone for us,” said the county’s public health director Barbara Ferrer.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she hoped officials could soon ease the restrictions on stay-at-home, but called for caution.

“I wish we could speed things up,” she said. “The virus is still out there waiting for us to let our guard down.”

Despite the average daily death toll, which has been on a stubborn plateau for weeks, there were new signs that even Los Angeles was starting to turn the corner.

Coronavirus transmission rate in the country’s most populous county, home to 56% of COVID-19 deaths California is now in its best position since the outbreak became clear in March.

At the onset of the pandemic’s arrival in L.A., the transmission speed of coronavirus was high; on average, each individual infected more than three other people. Researchers call this transmission rate the effective transmission number, or “R.”

But in late March, after the home-home order was completed, the effective transmission number dropped to 1, which means that, on average, each person with COVID-19 infected another person. This frequency means if it is maintained that the number of infected remains constant.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of healthcare in L.A. County, said a continued decline in the daily number of new confirmed cases suggested that the effective transmission number was now slightly below 1.

“If ‘R’ remains below 1, the Los Angeles County epidemic is expected to decline over time,” Ghaly said.

“It’s a good thing for all of us. When we work to reopen the economy and get people back to work and back to living their lives, we need to work together to prevent transmission from rising again, ”she said.

Use of hospital beds by COVID-19 patients is also stable and slightly trending downward in L.A. County, Ghaly said.

However, it is still possible that Los Angeles County may run out of intensive care beds if the disease transmission rate increases significantly. If more people start getting infected when the community reopens, officials don’t know it until two or four weeks later, the time it takes for these people to get so sick that they need medical attention.

An L.A. county simulation has found that if the county can keep the disease transmission rate the same as it is now, by early December, only 9% of L.A. county residents will have received coronavirus.

But if the effective transmission number were to increase to 1.5 – which means that each infected person gives the virus to 1.5 other people on average – 44% of the county’s residents will be infected by the beginning of December.

Overall, 52% of those who died in Los Angeles County lived in institutional settings. The vast majority were residents of qualified nursing facilities.

Los Angeles County has begun to ease some of its restrictions on coronavirus but does not meet the state’s criteria for a wider reopening.

To the south, new concerns arose in Orange County, registering 14 new coronavirus-related deaths Thursday – the most in a single day since the pandemic began. Officials attributed the surge to outbreaks in nursing homes.

The increase in deaths comes a day after the county reported 10 fatalities related to COVID-19. Of those who have died in the past two days, 18 were residents of skilled nursing facilities, Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick.

“We’ll have to watch it over the next week to see if this is a trend or if it was just a few days of increase,” Quick said. “We hope it was just that.”

Orange County hopes to reopen more of its finances, but is still waiting for state approval.

“We believe we have met all the criteria,” said Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel. “We have submitted a draft plan and are currently in the process of meeting with the state to finalize our variance.”

Much of California has come to a point where officials feel it is safe to lift more the state’s stay-at-home order and allows more companies to open again.

The number of new coronavirus cases across the state fell from the previous week, and hospital admissions have fallen more than 15% from a peak six weeks ago, according to a Times analysis.

Most counties have approved coming sooner through Phase 2 of the state’s reopening card – meaning they can open dining rooms for restaurants and more retail outlets for in-store shopping.

The list of counties that could increase their reopening efforts now includes San Diego – the state’s second-most populous – Kern, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Ventura County Chief Executive Mike Powers said he was “so happy for our county, businesses and staff,” adding that there is still “a long way to go, but this is an important milestone.”

“COVID-19 has had devastating effects on both community health and our economy,” he said. “We want companies to be able to open again, and we think they can and will do it safely.”

Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County’s health officer, said that before retail businesses can open their doors, or restaurants can start offering eateries there, they must conduct a risk assessment, educate their workers to counter the spread of the virus, and conduct temperature control of employees and in some cases patrons.

The county will inspect companies that reopen to make sure they comply, she said.

She also asked tourists to stay out of San Luis Obispo County. While officials have conducted “checks” with hotels to discourage tourism, Borenstein said the county would cite visitors only in the event of “serious violations.”

It is unclear when Los Angeles County will begin a wider reopening.

But Supervisor Janice Hahn urged Gavin Newsom to open all retail businesses across the state, provided they meet the same public health protocols – including capacity constraints and requiring facial and employee wear as well as physical distance.

By doing so, she said Thursday, it would help level the playing field between retailers who had to close due to coronavirus restrictions and larger ones such as Walmart, Costco and Target, which have been allowed to stay open throughout the pandemic because they also serves as grocery stores and pharmacies.

Times writers Cindy Carcamo, Leila Miller and James Rainey contributed with this report.

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