The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 56 new deaths and 1,541 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. That’s nearly 1,000 more new infections than were announced on Tuesday.

L.A. County Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer attributed this jump to new testing in institutional settings and also a lag in test results over the weekend.

To date, the county has identified 22,485 positive cases of COVID-19 and 1,056 deaths from the virus.

While both California Governor Gavin Newsom and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors have announced steps toward reopening, Dr. Christina Ghaly, Director of L.A. County Health services, warned that “physical distancing will be our new normal for some time.”

Dr. Ghaly said the latest modeling shows that, if physical distancing were reduced, “hospitals would experience an increase in patient volume after a delay of approximately 2-4 weeks.” She stressed again that physical distance needed to be maintained even as restrictions are eased.

Dr. Ghaly also revealed that if physical distancing were suddenly reduced to pre-stay-at-home norms, “the situation wold be dire, with…virtually all of the county infected by summer.”

PREVIOUS The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 59 new deaths and 597 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

To date, the county has identified 20,976 positive cases of COVID-19, while mortalities have reached the grim milestone of 1,000 deaths.

Meanwhile, public officials began to cautiously talk about reopening.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that officials are contemplating a July or August start for the fall school term. “We have made no decisions,” Newsom said at his daily briefing, but noted officials “recognize there’s been a learning loss.”

Newsom also revealed a “California Resilience Roadmap,” which plots out a four-stage reopening. According to the Roadmap, the state is currently at stage one.

The next stage will be “gradually reopening low-risk workplaces,” such as retail, manufacturing, offices and more public spaces. These first reopenings could happen within weeks. Movie theaters and sporting events (without crowds) would open in stage 3.

CA has made progress bending the curve but the risk of #COVID19 is still very real.

Today, Governor @GavinNewsom announced details on how CA plans to modify the Stay-At-Home order in the future.

These modifications are based on science, health & data & will happen in 4 stages:

— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) April 28, 2020

In a related move, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted today to set up an “economic resiliency task force” to “balance the science with the recovery,” according to Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

The task force will consider assistance and incentives to boost the economy, including tax credits, infrastructure investment and Community Development Block Grant funding. It will also consider a permanent 501(c)(3) fund to raise private dollars to address economic insecurity.

The county’s four key prerequisites for loosening restrictions, announced Friday, include:

1. Adequate health care capacity, including staffing and testing and stocks of ventilators and other critical supplies

2. Protections for high-risk populations, including the elderly, homeless, those living in institutional settings

3. Increased capacity to quickly test, isolate and quarantine anyone with symptoms

4. The ability to maintain physical distancing and control the infection

Supervisor Janice Hahn said residents should not expect big changes in the short term.

“I would caution everyone from thinking that we have the end in sight … it’s not the case,” said Hahn, noting that there is vaccine against COVID-19 or a therapeutic drug to treat the virus. That means residents will still need to be cautious and take protective measures, Hahn said.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest, announced campuses will not reopen without widespread coronavirus testing and contact tracing for students and employees. That, according to Superintendent Austin Beutner.

“We closed school facilities on March 13 so our schools did not become a petri dish and cause the virus to spread in the communities we serve,” Beutner said on Monday. The superintendent then cautioned against what he called “a hasty return to schools.”

Beutner said that the reopening of campuses would be “a gradual process with a schedule and school day that may be different.”

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors on Tuesday also called for measures to strengthen protections for residents and staff at skilled nursing homes, who represent the majority of those who die from COVID-19 in L.A. County.

The Board of Supervisors’ motion, put forth by Mark Ridley Thomas, calls for coordination with Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health to consider orders, guidelines and requirements, including:

-Facilitating expeditious testing for all staff and residents as quickly as possible

-Issuing standard protocols for skilled nursing homes to follow when they have a positive case of COVID-19

-Requiring adequate staff-to-patient ratios, as well as a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper training on COVID-19

-Banning retaliation against staff for working at multiple facilities, for advocating for PPEs as a condition of going to work, and for refusing to go to work

-Expediting pending licenses for certified nursing assistants

-Providing staff with additional pay, including overtime, until the COVID-19 crisis is over, as well as additional paid sick leave days so they can care for themselves or family members who may be infected

-Paying facilities an enhanced rate if they care for residents who have tested positive for COVID-19

-Requiring skilled nursing homes to readmit patients once they are no longer sick, and keep them when they are mildly or moderately ill but do not require hospitalization to avoid overwhelming hospitals

The LA County Department of Public Health also recently issued a Health Order that includes:

-Restricting access to skilled nursing homes

-Requiring diagnostic testing, symptom screenings and temperature checks for staff and residents

-Banning visitors and suspending communal dining and other activities

-Requiring staff to wear masks and PPEs and follow infection control guidelines

-Preventing staff from returning to the facilities if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic

-Offering additional shifts to their own employees and maintaining consistent staff to the extent possible

And finally, the Board of Supervisors, in consideration of continued social distancing, voted unanimously on Tuesday to send vote-by-mail ballots to every voter registered for the November general election.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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