L.A. County reaches 7,000 deaths, more than 300,000 coronavirus cases

Los Angeles County eclipsed two tragic milestones that few experts could have imagined mere months ago — as officials confirmed Monday, Oct. 26, that the coronavirus had claimed 7,000 lives since the pandemic began and more than 300,000 people have tested positive.

On Monday, the county reported eight new deaths, bringing the total to exactly 7,000 people who have died, and 861 new cases for a total of 300,614 confirmed cases.

“It’s a grim reminder of the horrific impact COVID-19 has on so many of our families,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “As I report these numbers every day it’s a reminder for me that this affects so many people across our communities who are grieving the loss of somebody who died of COVID-19.”

While the rates of infection in L.A. County remained among the state’s highest, hospitals have not been seeing an influx of new patients and the death rate too has stayed relatively low. Less than 800 people were in the hospital Monday from a high of more than 2,000 in July and about 18 people are dying per day over the past week down from nearly 50 in July.

Nonetheless, public health experts say it’s only a matter of time before increases in cases results in more hospitalizations and deaths. The county is on a tipping point, and it’s been there for some weeks now. Either cases could skyrocket, creating a surge of patients again at the hospital, or rates could decline with better compliance to the health orders leading the county to reopen more businesses and children returning to school.

“We’re starting to see a gradual uptick in hospitalizations,” said Dr. Roger Lewis, director of COVID-19 demand modeling for L.A. County Department of Health Services. “What this shows is that we really are on the edge of possibly seeing increased cases and burden in the healthcare system like they are seeing in other parts of the country. I think the data shows that L.A. County is really walking a fine line.”

Dr. Lawrence Sher who runs a family practice in Rolling Hills Estates as well as a research group currently administering a trial vaccine, said he is already seeing a troubling wave of patients with illnesses — mostly common cold and flu — who are worried they have the coronavirus.

“We are at a point where it’s scary because we are seeing more cases and we hoped we wouldn’t see this much,” Sher said. “We as a population need to be careful and just be wearing our masks and keeping our distance.”

With the first vaccines expected to only be available at first to health care professionals and first responders, the general public should expect to have available maybe four to five vaccines to choose from by sometime next year, possibly mid-spring to summer, according to Sher and other experts.

There is also no guarantee that any breakthrough treatment such as the Regeneron Pharmaceutical antibody treatment given to President Donald Trump will be available on a mass-scale anytime soon either. That only leaves basic public health guidance and working together to slow the spread of the virus, experts say.

Dr. Clayton Kazan, Medical Director for L.A. County Fire Department, said the most frustrating thing to him about the current situation is the amount of disinformation coming at the highest levels of the federal government. It’s disinformation and conspiracy theories, Kazan believes that has limited the amount of people following the public health guidance.

“it’s not misinformation, but disinformation,” Kazan said, “people actively trying to convince people what we’re putting out is wrong.”

He said one of the biggest perpetrators of disinformation was President Trump who falsely claimed recently that hospitals and doctors have a financial incentive to label deaths as related to the coronavirus.

“To have someone say we would label someone that way for some financial gain is really hurtful,” Kazan said. “It fuels the critics. And it’s people saying masks don’t work. I understand there is this battle fatigue out there. I don’t like wearing a mask either. But COVID is real.”

Dr. Brad Spellberg, Chief Medical Officer at LAC+USC Medical Center, was keeping hope alive that the coronavirus pandemic will be in the history books as soon as possible.

“We are all exhausted by this pandemic, but it is not over yet,” Spellberg said. “We all hope there is a vaccine soon, and that once there is widespread adoption of the vaccine, we can begin to move on. Until that time, we need to remember to maintain physical distancing, wash our hands, avoid crowds, and wear our masks. Civilization survived the 1918-1919 pandemic, which was much worse than this.  We will get through this, too, by working together.”

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