Testing in LA County gradually expands, but the criteria for obtaining a test remains stringent
A FILIPINA from Orlando, Florida — who was in Los Angeles visiting family — died on March 10 from the novel coronavirus, making her the first death by COVID-19 in LA County.
The woman, whose first name was Loretta and was described as being in her 60s, was a frequent traveler and had been traveling with her husband Roddy in Thailand in February, according to the couple’s son.
The couple had a recent layover in South Korea, and once they landed in Los Angeles on March 8 the wife had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
While visiting family in Walnut, California, Loretta “didn’t have a pulse, and [the husband] had to give her CPR,” the son told WKMG/News 6. She was taken to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and died eight hours after being admitted.
Officials from the City of Walnut and the Pomona Valley Hospital assured that Loretta’s case was carefully monitored and understand that people in Walnut and in the surrounding area are “anxious” about potential exposure to the virus, which hospital staff said was “low.”
“The individual did not travel within the city of Walnut,” the city’s mayor Andrew Rodriguez told KTLA. “She traveled extensively abroad but when coming to the city of Walnut, she primarily stayed at the residence and was not out and about in the community.”
The LA County Fire Department, which first responded to the Filipina, said in a statement that its personnel is “undergoing active monitoring at home” but do not have symptoms.
Barbara Ferrer, the LA County Public Health Director, who has been at the helm of the county’s efforts to contain the virus wrote in a statement, “Public Health extends our deepest condolences to the patient’s loved ones in the wake of this tragedy. We strongly recommend that all Los Angeles County residents, workers, students, and visitors take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus.”
Amid the tragedy of losing his wife, Loretta’s husband is now grieving alone after having been put into quarantine in Southern California after developing the symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. To make matters worse, the son said that the LA County Department of Health isn’t testing the father for the virus.
“They wouldn’t do the testing unless he was in critical condition,” the son said. “It was mind-blowing. I’m like, wait, you’re asking us to take a chance and wait for him to get [worse] before he gets a test.”
Loretta’s family has since been mourning the loss of their loved one and are concerned over officials’ slow pace when it comes to administering tests.
Loretta’s nieces Victoria Do and Katarina Fajardo (the daughters of the family that Loretta and the husband were visiting in Walnut) told NBC Los Angeles that their aunt “was the sweetest, always happy” and that “she was a fighter, a breast cancer survivor.”
The family initially thought that she has been suffering from simple jet lag but it turned out to be the deadly virus that has rocked the world, resulting in thousands of deaths and large-scale shutdowns of major cities.
The nieces expressed frustration that they “can’t do anything” for their quarantined uncle as well as their now-quarantined father and stepmom, both of whom also are showing symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.
“People are not getting tested when they should be. People are posting everywhere, ‘Oh, I’m getting tested. I have no symptoms,’ [but] where are these people getting tests?” Do told NBC, highlighting the current predicament across the U.S. of the lack of available tests.
Loretta’s death on March 10 was the only COVID-19-related death in the county until Thursday, March 19 when county officials confirmed the second death in the Pasadena area.
Sixty-one new cases were also confirmed on Friday, March 20, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 292 across the county.
Ferrer said in a press briefing that the true number of COVID-19 cases is likely five to 10 times higher than what is reported due to the limited amount of testing that has been administered.
In LA County, medical centers are slowly increasing the capacity for coronavirus testing, but in most cases, hospitals and labs in the Southland have established that people should visit their primary care physicians first. If symptoms fit within the COVID-19 spectrum, patients will then be referred to testing centers, more of which are being built, LA County officials promised in a press briefing.
Moreover, testing for the new coronavirus has been largely limited to high-risk patients over the age of 60 and/or have underlying health conditions who are exhibiting high fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing; but, still, tests are only given after receiving approval by a doctor.
Across the country, drive-thru testing and drive-up centers have allowed for wider swaths of the population to get tested but none have appeared in LA County.
Kaiser-Permanente, which has 15 centers across Southern California, is currently piloting drive-thru test centers at several of its sites, but that option is still only available for those who received approval from a Kaiser doctor.
“The people whom we invite to participate in these drive-thrus are Kaiser Permanente members who have been screened and meet the CDC’s criteria for testing,” Kaiser-Permanente spokesperson Terry Kanakri said in a statement.
Local officials like LA Mayor Eric Garcetti have acknowledged the importance for more testing to fully understand the size and scope of the COVID-19 spread. As they negotiate more tests for the public, both Garcetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom made major announcements Thursday night ordering Californians to stay home.
As of press time, there are 1,063 cases of coronavirus in California and, so far, 21 people across the state have died.