LOS ANGELES, CA— A promising treatment for severe cases of coronavirus emerged in a study Tuesday at the same time officials in Los Angeles worked with community groups to prepare for a possible second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
As the county surpassed the the 75,000 mark for COVID-19 cases Tuesday, scientists at the University of Oxford released a study showing that a common and inexpensive steroid reduced the death rate among severely ill coronavirus patients among patients study. The study found that the drug dexamethasone reduced the fatality rate among patients on ventilators in the study by a third. One of the first major breakthroughs in coronavirus treatments, the news comes as health officials and leaders in California grapple with a rising rate of coronavirus transmission.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported another 1,337 cases of the virus, while Long Beach confirmed 78 more Tuesday. The new cases gave the county a total of 75,162. Meanwhile, another 33 deaths were reported by the county, and Long Beach announced one additional fatality. As of Tuesday afternoon, the countywide death toll stood at 2,960. Los Angeles continues to move forward with reopening, balancing the need to kickstart the economy with the coronavirus death toll.
Returning to some form of economic normalcy may come with a big price tag for Los Angeles County, as leaders representing hospitals, the arts, nonprofits, labor and faith-based organizations looked to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to help source personal protective gear, expand COVID-19 testing and implement a host of other safety measures.
Members of the Los Angeles County Economic Resiliency Task Force asked the board to consider opening COVID-19 testing sites at churches and in workplaces and providing both coordination and subsidies for buying masks and other safety equipment as the region moves into the next phase of reopening.
As community, nonprofit and business groups work together to find ways to safely return to normal, the toll of the disease continues to hit LA County's nursing homes hardest.
Roughly half of the coronavirus deaths in the county have occurred among residents of skilled nursing facilities, a fact that has been a cause of concern throughout the pandemic, prompting increases in testing and a ban on visitors at such facilities.
On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, sent a letter to county Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger, asking for an update on the county's testing program at nursing homes.
"I would like to request an update on the county's outbreak as well as to offer my full assistance in helping address any issues that are preventing the county from safely reopening with adequate testing and other health measures in place," Feinstein wrote.
Of the 2,748 people who died for which ethnic data was available, 42% were Latino, 28% were white, 17% were Asian, 11% were Black and less than 1% were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
A total of 1,288 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Tuesday, and 31% of those people were in intensive-care units.
As of Tuesday, nearly 841,000 people have been tested for the virus in the county, with about 8% testing positive.
County officials again urged residents to continue taking precautions when they venture out in public, including wearing face coverings and maintaining a six-foot distance from others. They also advised business owners to ensure they are meeting all health requirements before reopening.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer said Monday that inspectors visited 2,000 restaurants over the weekend, and half of them were "still not in compliance" with health requirements.
"They'll be revisiting all of the restaurants that were not in compliance and issuing them an order to come into compliance," Ferrer said. "We've been doing a lot of education, but starting this week we're actually going to revisit places where we noted that people still had concerns, they had confusion, they hadn't quite made the changes. There should be no places where tables are right next to each other. They either need a six-foot (separation) or a physical barrier. Those are requirements in the protocols.
"... We're really working hard with our restaurants," she said. "I want to note that 50% of the restaurants we visited were in complete compliance, which is way up from where we were the first weekend. So I want to thank all those restaurants that are in fact doing their very best to adhere to the protocols and put in place those measures that offer safety."
Barger said Monday the county is trying to strike a balance between public safety and the need for businesses to reopen and put people back to work.
"Because we know it's not an `either-or,' it's got to be an `and.' We want to be driven by industry, recognizing that Dr. Ferrer and her team will help us ensure that people are doing the social distancing and everything is in place at each business to ensure that people are protected," Barger said.
"So it's a constant balancing act, for sure, and there's no perfect science," she said. "But I know in L.A. County we want it to be both industry and public health driving that narrative moving forward, and we've done it in a very slow, deliberative fashion to make sure that we are, again, balancing the public health needs with getting people back to work."
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.