As California’s death toll from COVID-19 reached 55, health officials in Los Angeles County said Tuesday that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus may have taken the life of a Lancaster teenager, possibly the nation’s first death of a person under 18 related to the virus.
L.A. County Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer called it “a devastating reminder that COVID-19 affects people of all ages.” But in a statement late Tuesday, public health officials noted that although “early tests indicated a positive result for COVID-19, the case is complex and there may be an alternate explanation” besides COVID-19 for the death.
Word of the teen’s death came as officials warned Tuesday that the situation was about to get much worse in California, with infections surging and elected leaders and public health agencies scrambling to free up hospital bed space.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a video address, emphasized the need for virtually everyone to stay home, declaring that L.A. could be six to 12 days from seeing numbers like those in New York City, where the death toll has exploded in recent days.
“It’s coming,” Garcetti said. “The peak is not here yet. The peak will be bad. People will lose their lives. Many of us will know those people.”
Garcetti said Angelenos should prepare to live “for a couple months like this,” a rebuff to President Trump’s remarks Tuesday that the country could be “raring to go by Easter.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Trump’s remarks did not reflect reality in California, where statewide infections have surged to nearly 2,500. “April for California would be sooner than any of the experts that I talked to believe is possible,” Newsom said.
Newsom now expects California will need 50,000 hospital beds to deal with COVID-19 patients, more than double what his administration forecast last week. He said the state’s 416 hospitals will execute “surge plans” to create 30,000 new beds.
Newsom also ordered a halt to the intake and transfer of inmates at the state’s 35 prisons and four youth correctional facilities. He said British billionaire Richard Branson will donate medical gear to help healthcare workers, joining efforts by Tesla and Apple executives.
In an interview Tuesday, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said the teenage boy died of septic shock and that the youth’s father is infected with the coronavirus.
As officials try to determine the exact cause of death for the youth, it’s possible that the coronavirus and bacterial infection are correlated, one expert said.
“We do know that respiratory viruses in general can exacerbate secondary bacterial infections,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford University professor of pediatrics infectious diseases and the chair of the American Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases.
It’s possible that a viral infection could worsen a bacterial super-infection and lead to a secondary bacterial infection, including pneumonia or sepsis, Maldonado said, adding, “I see no reason why this virus would be any different.”
Meanwhile, the toll of infections continued to mount up and down California.
In L.A. County, officials confirmed three more deaths linked to the virus, bringing the countywide death toll to 11. The county confirmed an additional 128 cases of coronavirus infection, pushing the county’s total to 662.
The Los Angeles Police Department said 11 officers have tested positive, two of them members of its senior command staff. In Orange County, health officials confirmed the county’s first virus-related death, a man in his 70s with underlying health issues who was getting treatment at a hospital. The number of infected people reached 152 in Orange County, with 27 new reported cases.
In San Mateo County, there were 19 new cases and a second reported fatality — a resident of the Atria Senior Living facility in Burlingame.
San Francisco reported its first COVID-19 fatality, a man in his 40s with “multiple, significant underlying health conditions,” the city announced. The city now has 152 confirmed cases, and officials warned of a surge in cases within a week or two, with the public health director saying “the worst is yet to come.”
In Long Beach, Mayor Robert Garcia tweeted Tuesday that the city now has 28 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“If you have the ability to stay home, please do so,” Garcia wrote. “Wash your hands and social distance. We all need to work to flatten the curve.”
The city’s 28 cases include one of two Cal State Long Beach students who tested positive for the virus and were in self-isolation off campus.
Elsewhere in the higher education sphere, officials at Stanford said Tuesday that 24 people connected to the institution — either as students, faculty, staff or post-doctoral students — have tested positive for COVID-19.
Among those is one student who is self-isolating on campus, university officials said.
Across the state, officials continued to call for an increase in testing capacity and reporting. Frustrated public health directors in Contra Costa and five other Bay Area counties have ordered testing sites to begin reporting not just the positive cases, but also the negative results, which experts say is critical to tracking the spread of the virus.
In Santa Clara County, there were 16 reported deaths as of Tuesday, the most in the state. There, the sheriff’s office confirmed four cases of infection among its staff, including a deputy who is self-isolating at home.
The state’s chief justice has issued an order to delay criminal and civil trials for 60 days in courtrooms across California’s 58 counties, because court facilities are “ill-equipped to effectively allow the social distancing” needed to thwart the virus.
The presiding judge of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Kevin C. Brazile, blocked public access to county courthouses except for attorneys, staff, defendants and “authorized persons,” though the clerk’s office will still be available to accept filings and assist people remotely.
The California National Guard is being deployed for humanitarian purposes, such as helping at food banks and handing out food and medical supplies.
Late Tuesday, the Los Angeles Archdiocese said it was closing all its churches and offices until further notice, citing the danger of the coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile, California remained largely shut down under state and local orders.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva added gun stores to the list of “nonessential” businesses Tuesday, saying gun sellers will be cited — and may lose their business licenses — if they don’t close their doors.
Early Wednesday morning, however, the sheriff said that the department’s “enforcement efforts to close nonessential businesses have been suspended” and that Newsom would “determine what qualifies as a nonessential business.”
Garcetti, meanwhile, said he continues to receive reports of various “irresponsible and selfish” nonessential businesses that remain open as usual, which he said may prompt a call from local prosecutors, and could result in the city shutting off their water and power.
At recreational areas, local leaders tightened restrictions amid worries that people are still not staying at least six feet apart in public, as reflected, for example, by last weekend’s crowds at popular beaches. In Laguna Beach, the beaches have closed. In Los Angeles, Councilman David Ryu asked the parks department to close Runyon Canyon Park and Lake Hollywood Park on weekends.
“I don’t make this recommendation easily, but closing Runyon Canyon Park on weekends, when we have seen the highest volume of visitors, should follow to keep everyone safe,” Ryu said.
In Sonoma County, parks and open spaces are closed indefinitely, including city, county, state and federal parklands and recreational lands operated by private groups and nonprofits.
“Closing parks is a difficult decision, but it is the right decision at this time,” Sundari Mase, the county’s interim health officer, said in a statement. “The best action we can take is to stay close to home and limit our outdoor time to our yards and neighborhoods.”
In Orange County, officials have shuttered county-owned parking lots at all trails and parks under OC Parks jurisdiction, including Irvine Regional Park, Talbert Regional Park in Costa Mesa and Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley. While the sites themselves remain open, officials hope that curtailing parking will prevent crowds.
“I would not want to discourage residents from getting out and getting fresh air,” said Supervisor Doug Chaffee.
Popular beaches were crowded over the weekend, despite calls for people to keep a six-foot buffer around themselves when they venture outside.
Prior to Orange County’s action, individual cities in the county had taken it upon themselves to implement such restrictions.
Huntington Beach’s pier and all city beach parking lots closed Tuesday, while in Newport Beach, the piers and beachfront parking lots will close beginning Wednesday. Beach parking lots are also closed in Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu.
Times staff writers Phil Willon, Sarah Parvini, Taryn Luna, Luke Money, Rong-Gong Lin II and Christopher Goffard contributed to this report.