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Los Angeles County officials on Thursday continued to stress the importance of staying home and avoiding personal contact with others as the best tool in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

“As we know more about COVID-19, the guidance likely will change,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “We’re clear about what’s not changing, which is your need to stay home as much as possible. There’s been no change in that and there’s unlikely to be any change in that in the weeks to come.”

“I know it’s not easy and that these circumstances are unprecedented for our entire community,” she said. “But we are all in this together, so it makes sense if we work together to get through this. Please don’t lose hope and please don’t stop following all of the directives.”

The number of deaths attributed to the virus continues to climb, with 13 more reported Thursday, for a total of 78 in Los Angeles County. This indicates a slight increase in the mortality rate to 1.9%; it had been holding steady at 1.8%.

Of the most recent deaths, 12 were people older than 65 and one was between the ages of 41 and 65, officials said. All but one of the older patients had underlying health conditions.

With 534 new confirmed cases reported Thursday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County reached 4,045.

Lancaster and Palmdale reported slight increases in the number of confirmed cases, with 33 and 20 cases, respectively. This total of 53 cases is an increase of three over Wednesday’s report.

COVID-19 has also been confirmed in residents in the unincorporated areas of Acton, Lake Los Angeles, Quartz Hill, Sun Village and west Antelope Valley as well. The latest Public Health Department report indicates at least one but fewer than four cases in each area. The exact number is not specified because of the communities’ small population, for fear of violating the patients’ confidentiality, officials said.

Among the confirmed cases are six inmates at California State Prison in Lancaster, officials reported.

Of the more than 4,000 cases, 879 people have needed hospitalization at some point, for a rate of 22%, Ferrer said.

Currently, 241 people are hospitalized with the virus, with 153 of these older than 55. Two-thirds of these patients have no underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease or hypertension.

“While most death and serious illness does occur amongst people who are older and people with underlying health conditions, all people who get infected with COVID-19 at any age, can have very serious illness and that can mean that they are required to have a hospitalization,” Ferrer said.

One factor in the increased number of new cases is increased testing, as Los Angeles County works to bring testing capabilities to areas where it was severely limited before, such as the Antelope Valley, which will have two testing locations today.

As of Wednesday, about 23,300 people had been tested in Los Angeles County, with about 13% of those tested returning positive results, officials said.

Ferrer said she expects that number is slightly inflated, as not all labs have reported the number of negative results they have processed.

Although more available than previously, testing is still limited.

“We’ve seen a lot of improvements in testing … but it remains critical that we be able to prioritize testing for those most in need,” Ferrer said.

As elsewhere, Kern County’s confirmed cases have continued to increase. As of Thursday, 155 cases were reported among residents and three among visitors.

The county has recorded one death attributed to COVID-19.

The majority of the county’s cases are in the most heavily populated area in and around Bakersfield. Five cases have been reported in the desert region on the county’s eastern side, which includes the communities of Rosamond, Mojave, California City and Ridgecrest. More specific locations other than region are not provided by officials.

Similar to the statistics in Los Angeles County, the vast majority of those who have tested positive for the virus are in the ages of 18 to 64; only 31 of the 139 cases reported Wednesday were in people age 65 and older and only two were below the age of 18.

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