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LA County Health Director 'Cautiously Optimistic' As Coronavirus Trends Improve

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Los Angeles County's public health director Monday again expressed cautious optimism about efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, but said she's awaiting an influx of backlogged testing results from the state.

According to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county is now representing smaller shares of the state's total coronavirus cases and deaths.

"I have to emphasize the word 'cautiously,' because although our data is showing signs of stability, everyone knows we do have a delay in getting accurate reporting from our labs," Ferrer said, referencing a roughly two-week backlog in results from California's electronic reporting system that stalled results of roughly 300,000 tests across the state.

"So we'll stay in the cautious space until we actually see our numbers for the past two weeks," Ferrer said.

Also Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officer Dr. Mark Ghaly said that dramatic technology improvements were implemented over the weekend, quadrupling the state's capacity to process test results and relay them to counties. The improvements allowed the state to clear the backlog over the weekend, but those results still need to be processed by individual counties.

Ferrer said the virus situation continues to improve in Los Angeles County, particularly in terms of lower hospitalizations and deaths, which have not been impacted by the state computer glitch.

"Daily hospitalizations averaged less than 1,900 patients a day all of last week," she said, adding that the number is now averaging about 1,600.

"Deaths remain stable at an average of about 37 people passing away -- again, a high number and our hearts go out to everyone -- for the past two weeks," Ferrer said. "And although the data around daily cases is complicated by the missing and backlogged data from the labs, we are seeing that our daily new cases these last few days have stabilized well below the 3,000 cases we were seeing in the middle of July. It's still a very high number but it does show that we're making some progress."

Ferrer also reported another 19 coronavirus-related deaths and deaths 1,920 new cases.

The countywide totals now stand at 4,998 deaths and 210,543 cases since the pandemic began. Ferrer noted that the county is now "very close to reaching a very unfortunate milestone" of 5,000 deaths.

Of those deaths were two fatalities reported by Long Beach health officials.

Of the cases, 104 were reported by Long Beach and 15 were reported by Pasadena, both of which have their own health departments.

During the Monday press conference, a series of charts were showed that Los Angeles County -- which once represented more than half of the COVID-19 deaths and cases in the state -- is now responsible for lower percentages of the statewide totals.

According to Ferrer, the county now represents less than 37% of the state's overall cases and less than half of the deaths.

"This trend did start to shift in mid-June, particularly when we started implementing some of our modifications and issued some new health officer orders here in the county," Ferrer said.

Ferrer again stressed that the positive trends don't mean the pandemic is over or that people can let their guard down.

"This progress that we've made is essential as we continue building what we call our new normal this month so that we can get to a point where we're able to reopen our schools for in-person learning and more of our neighbors are able to get back to work," she said. "The new normal means that as individuals we're going to make some choices. And we have to make the best possible choices we can. This will mean continuing to avoid crowds, avoiding being physically close to people when we leave our homes, avoiding gatherings with people we don't live with and we have to continue to wear our face coverings."

Ferrer praised the success of contact-tracing efforts in the county -- speaking with virus-positive patients and tracking their movements to determine if others were exposed and need to be quarantined or placed in isolation.

Anyone who has tested positive but has not heard from a contact-tracer is urged to call the county at 833-540-0473.

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