Woman dies of COVID-19 in Long Beach, the city’s first fatal case

Long Beach officials today confirmed the first fatal case of COVID-19 in the city as the number of cases locally continued to climb.

Authorities said a woman in her 50s with underlying health conditions died from the new coronavirus disease. Epidemiologists are working to track whether she may have exposed anyone else to the virus, officials said.

“We’ve been dreading this day and were hoping it would never come,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “We extend our deepest condolences to the victim’s family, friends, and loved ones.”

The woman is one of 21 patients in Long Beach who have tested positive for COVID-19, city health officials said Monday afternoon. That number was up from 15 cases a day earlier. Four of those 21 people have been hospitalized, said Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer.

The number of positive tests is undoubtedly not a comprehensive count of coronavirus cases. Recently, Long Beach followed the lead of other local health departments and advised doctors to conserve limited tests by skipping screenings for people with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

It’s unclear how many people have been tested for COVID-19 in Long Beach. Officials have declined to release numbers from the city’s lab, and they said private labs are only required to inform them if the test results are positive.

Regardless, Garcia said the next few weeks in Long Beach will be critical for slowing the spread of the new coronavirus, which he said could overwhelm the local health care system if drastic steps aren’t taken by everyone.

“Or we’re going to fail at that and fill our hospitals to an emergency point where we will not have enough beds to treat everyone that needs support and needs a hospital bed,” Garcia said Monday afternoon.

To avoid that outcome, state and local officials have ordered everyone to stay home unless they’re conducting essential business like going to the grocery store.

Signs are posted throughout a farmers market to remind people to stay a safe distance away from one another in Downtowntown Long Beach Friday, March 20, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Right now, the city is relying on residents to follow the sweeping stay-at-home order voluntarily, but breaking the statute is a misdemeanor and police could use fines and arrests if officials decide to crack down.

“What our police department is asking the community right now to do is to please help us follow the orders and the laws,” Garcia said. “We are not, right now, trying to burden everybody with tickets.”

However, over the weekend, Garcia said on Twitter that he was seeing too many people outside flouting the direction to avoid groups of any kind and keep at least 6 feet distance from other people.

Soon after, Long Beach ordered a shutdown of all sports facilities, picnic areas, exercise classes and other group activities at parks. Los Angeles County has followed suit, on Monday closing down all hiking trails in the county.

Across LA County, seven people have died from COVID-19 and 536 people have tested positive for the disease, according to health officials.

Although most cases of COVID-19 are mild, county health officials emphasized it’s not just the elderly and with underlying health conditions who are vulnerable to contracting and spreading the disease.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the county’s public health department, said 42% of the patients countywide are between the ages of 18 and 40, while 80% are between the ages of 18-65.

County officials again stressed that the number of cases will continue to increase as more testing becomes available. Ferrer noted that of the people being tested in the county, about 10% are testing positive for the illness.

On those lines, Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu announced that the city and county have struck an agreement with a South Korean firm Seegene Technologies Inc. to provide 20,000 new coronavirus tests, with the tests prioritized for first-responders and medical professionals.

The 20,000 tests are the first of what is envisioned as a larger contract that could provide 100,000 tests per week to Los Angeles, Ryu said. Those tests will be made available to the public for free.

It wasn’t immediately clear if that testing would be available for Long Beach, which maintains its own health department apart from LA County.

“What’s really important for people to know is that the city of Long Beach and the County of Los Angeles and our region, we are testing right now as much as our capacity allows us to,” Garcia said.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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