LOS ANGELES, CA — Even as the rate of new coronavirus cases appears to be leveling off in Los Angeles, the county reached a grim milestone surpassing 1,000 deaths due to COVID-19.
Another 52 people died from the disease, the county Department of Public Health reported Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,002 fatalities. Another 597 contracted the coronavirus. Though dozens are still dying daily, there are hopeful signs that the coronavirus is leveling off, and the region can begin preparing for shutdown orders to be lifted in upcoming weeks.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday hinted as much, telling reporters it could be "weeks, not months" until some of the stay-at-home orders are relaxed, possibly allowing some lower-risk businesses to reopen.
LA County's Safer At Home order is set to expire May 15, and there are no current plans to extend the order, County public health director Barbara Ferrer said. Health officials are in agreement with the governor that a gradual reopening is on the horizon, she said. As the May 15 date approaches, officials will re-evaluate the need for extending the orders.
"I think we're all with the governor on this," Ferrer said. "We know that we're headed into recovery. We're hoping that happens sometime in the middle of May, that's our best guess right now.
"But I do share the governor's optimism. I think I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of the people in L.A. County who are staying home, who are doing their very best to protect themselves and their loved ones who are trying really hard to make sure they don't spread the infection. And because of that, I feel optimistic, come the middle of May, we too will be looking at the ability to relax some of the directives in the current health officer order."
That said, many factors have to line up before Los Angeles can begin returning to normal. The decision to ease social-distancing and business-closure requirements will depend on multiple factors such as hospital capacity, the expansion of testing and ensuring the ability to continue protecting the health of people more susceptible to the virus, Ferrer said.
"We all have to work together. We have to partner with all of our businesses, with all of our residents to make sure as we start relaxing, we do so in a way that maximizes our ability to still do a lot of physical distancing," added Ferrer.
Outbreaks in Los Angeles continue to be deadliest to nursing home residents. The county instituted a number of measures to curb the outbreaks this week including increased testing and a ban on visitors.
Of the people who have died, 462 were residents of institutional settings, the vast majority of them in nursing homes -- representing 46% of all COVID-19 deaths in the county. Of the 11 health care workers who have died in the county during the pandemic, eight worked at nursing homes, Ferrer said. There have been a total of 4,488 cases among residents and staff in institutional settings, including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons, according to the county.
Coronavirus testing has been ramped up at nursing homes throughout the county, with tests being provided for all residents and staff regardless of whether they are showing any symptoms. Ferrer publicly apologized Monday for not offering such widespread testing from the outset of the pandemic, before it was known that people could transmit the virus to others without showing any symptoms of the illness.
The fatalities also continued to have a disproportionate impact on the black community. According to the county, of the 918 people who died for whom information was available, 37% were Latinx, 29% were white, 18% were Asian, 14% were black and 1% were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Black residents make up roughly 9% of the county's overall population. More than 133,000 Los Angeles County residents have been tested for COVID-19.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.