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County reports 19 new coronavirus deaths

LOS ANGELES — Nineteen more deaths due to coronavirus were reported in Los Angeles County April 20, while the resolution of a backlog of testing results from one lab led to an increase of nearly 1,500 positive cases in the county.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, announced 17 new coronavirus deaths during a midday briefing. That figure, however, did not include two additional deaths reported later in the day by officials in Long Beach, which has its own health department separate from the county.

The new Long Beach deaths pushed that city’s total to 24 and, along with the 17 deaths reported by Ferrer, increased the countywide death toll to 619.

Ferrer also reported 1,491 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, but she said the vast majority of them — 1,198 — were the result of a backlog of testing results from the week of April 7-14 that were just reported by a single testing lab. She said the actual one-day increase in cases was 293.

The county’s total number of cases stood at 13,816, although Long Beach reported seven more positive results, increasing the total to 13,823.

The updated numbers were overshadowed by the release of preliminary results of an antibody study that made use of serology testing that is used to determine if a person may have been unknowingly infected with the virus, yet never showed symptoms or was never tested.

Preliminary results of the study found that of 863 people randomly selected for testing, 4.1% had antibodies in their system, indicating they had been infected at some point with the virus. When applying a margin of error, researchers estimated that between 2.8% and 5.6% of the county’s population has been infected, resulting in a range of 221,000 and 442,000 people. Those estimates are 28 to 55 times higher than the 7,994 cases that had been confirmed when the antibody testing was done in early April.

Ferrer said the results reinforce the continued need for stay-at-home and social-distancing mandates, since potentially hundreds of thousands of people could be infected with the virus and capable of spreading it.

Lead investigator Neeraj Sood, professor at the USC Price School for Public Policy, said the numbers show the county is “very early in the epidemic” given the number of people who are likely infected without their knowledge.

Ferrer noted that the presence of antibodies in a person’s body does not mean the person is immune to the illness.

Additional serology testing is expected to continue into the summer.

Of the people who have died from coronavirus, 89% had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said, a percentage that has remained generally steady as new fatalities are reported.

Of the 54 deaths for which race and ethnicity data were available, 36% were Latino, 28% white, 17% Asian and 16% black.

Ferrer said there are now 47 cases of coronavirus among the homeless, the vast majority of them unsheltered. She noted that health officials are investigating cases that occurred at eight different homeless shelters, and anyone potentially exposed to the positive patients has been quarantined. 

A total of 265 institutional settings — including nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons — have had at least one case. Those institutions accounted for a total of 2,733 cases, involving 1,580 residents and 1,153 staff members. 

They also account for 241 deaths, or roughly 39% of all coronavirus fatalities in the county. The “vast majority” of those deaths were in skilled nursing facilities.As of April 20, about 80,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in the county, with about 13% testing positive.

Wave Wire Services