L.A. coronavirus cases dropping so low officials could soon seek to reopen schools

Eufemia Didonato

A cell, in greenish brown, is heavily infected with the coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, that causes the COVID-19 disease. <span class=(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — Integrated Research Facility)” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/DNNGXw_fD9Yf90.ZfMDB.A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTU4Mi4zMDA4ODQ5NTU3NTIy/https://media.zenfs.com/en/la_times_articles_853/7fd00c0e5ba2c362a2bd046df08e96bf” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/DNNGXw_fD9Yf90.ZfMDB.A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTU4Mi4zMDA4ODQ5NTU3NTIy/https://media.zenfs.com/en/la_times_articles_853/7fd00c0e5ba2c362a2bd046df08e96bf”/>
A cell, in greenish brown, is heavily infected with the coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, that causes the COVID-19 disease. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — Integrated Research Facility)

Despite disturbing numbers of young people dying of COVID-19, Los Angeles County’s chief medical officer said Thursday that new coronavirus cases may soon drop enough to allow officials to apply for waivers to reopen elementary schools.

During an online news conference, Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser noted that waivers can be sought to reopen schools when cases are below 200 for every 100,000 people for two weeks.

Over the last two weeks, officials have reported 27,739 new cases, which amounts to 275 per 100,000, but Gunzenhauser said that number was steadily dropping.

“We do believe we could get down to under 200 in the near future,” he said.

The Los Angeles Unified School District resumed classes this week, but instruction was being done remotely. There are extensive requirements for applying for waivers, and county health officers must approve applications.

Gunzenhauser gave a generally optimistic briefing on the state of the pandemic in L.A. County. He said the length of average hospital stays for COVID-19 has declined from a few months ago, probably because of improved understanding of how to treat the disease.

He said more young people are now being hospitalized for the disease, and they also are likely to recover more quickly than older patients.

But he warned that younger people are dying from the disease, and the percentage of people aged 18 to 29 hospitalized for COVID-19 has doubled to 10%.

Of the approximately 5,400 people in the county who have died of COVID-19, 440 were aged 18 to 41 with no underlying health conditions, he said.

The underlying conditions that make patients most at risk for severe illness and death are hypertension, which is common among those 65 and older, and diabetes, a condition that affects 10% of the county’s population, he said.

He also reported a positive trend in skilled nursing homes, where widespread testing and protective equipment are now stemming infections.

The county now has about nine nursing home deaths a week, down two-thirds from a high of 27 in April, he said.

The number is “still too many,” he said, “but it does show our measures are working.”

There have been 13,120 COVID-19 infections among healthcare workers and first responders in the county. Two-thirds of them are women, nearly half are Latino, and more than half are between the ages of 18 and 40, he said.

More than 37% of those infected were nurses.

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