LOS ANGELES – Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Los Angeles County’s first death from COVID-19, a grim reminder of the roots of a pandemic that began with a virus about which little was known, but which spread to now rank as the county’s leading cause of death.
“Tragically, one year later, over 22,000 people — including grandparents, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and coworkers – – have passed away from this terrible virus here in L.A. County, leaving a huge void behind,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
Reflecting on those early days of the pandemic, Ferrer recalled a time when public health officials locally and globally “were facing a frightening reality.”
“Part of the fright was there were so many unknowns back in March, and a deep realization that we had a virus that was extraordinarily infectious, and in fact could cause a lot of serious illness and death,” Ferrer said. “And, you know, I think for all us this was a sobering moment, particularly when we lost a person here and we knew that this was in all likelihood the first of, unfortunately, many people that might pass away from this deadly virus.”
She said health officials were scrambling to learn more about the virus and about what kind of infection-control measures were working in other parts of the world.
“We relied heavily on the reduced opportunities for people to be with each other,” Ferrer said. “Just getting people to stay home as much as possible was one of the main strategies that we had at that point in time.
“So we still had a lot to learn in March, but there was a definite realization that life was going to be very different for all of us for many, many months to come,” Ferrer said. “And we really needed to try to do everything in our power to limit transmission as quickly as we could, because it could have a disastrous result as we were seeing elsewhere in the world.”
Despite all the control measures and lockdowns, COVID-19 has taken a tragic toll, with more than 22,200 deaths in the county attributed to the virus to date.
Ferrer said that prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the leading cause of death in the county was coronary heart disease. From March 1, 2020, until Feb. 22, 2021, nearly 11,000 people have died in the county from coronary heart disease, Ferrer said.
“That’s about half of the deaths we’ve seen in one year from COVID- 19,” Ferrer said. “There’s been tremendous tragedy and suffering here and across the world.”
Another 1,514 cases were announced by the county on Wednesday, March 10, although Ferrer said that number included a “few hundred” cases attributed to a reporting backlog. The new cases raised the cumulative pandemic total to 1,206,713. According to state figures, there were 1,056 people hospitalized in the Los Angeles County due to COVID as of Monday, with 309 people in intensive care.