342 healthcare workers in LA County have contracted COVID-19 while battling virus on front lines

Public Health officials in Los Angeles County on Wednesday reported that 342 healthcare workers in the county have tested positive for COVID-19.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer thanked the county's healthcare workers during an afternoon press conference, expressing gratitude for the individuals who are putting the well being of those in their community above their own.

Out of the 342 cases, 58% were individuals working at area hospitals, Ferrer said. Other cases have
occurred at outpatient facilities and among emergency medical services personnel. Nurses have had the largest number of cases, but doctors, paramedics and emergency medical technicians have also tested positive.

She also stated that two healthcare workers in the county have died from COVID-19, but did not release their names or any additional information on their deaths.

The number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County surpasses 7,500 on Wednesday, county health officials said, as they announced 620 new cases since the day prior.

Public Health also announced 29 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the county's death count up to 198.

Of the newly reported deaths, 17 individuals were over the age of 65, 16 of which had underlying health conditions. Seven individuals were between the ages of 41 and 65, five of which had underlying health conditions. One individual, who also had underlying health conditions, was between the ages of 18 and 40.

Ferrer said they are waiting to receive information about the remaining four cases from their partners in Long Beach and Pasadena, where those deaths were reported.

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The mortality rate among coronavirus patients in the county continued to rise slowly, reaching 2.6% on Wednesday, Ferrer said. This means that 2.6% of the people who have tested positive for the illness in the county have died. Last week, the mortality rate was 1.8%.

Twelve cases have been confirmed among the county's homeless population, up from two on Tuesday. Four cases have been reported in homeless shelters, involving two residents and two staff members.

Ferrer said there are now 131 institutional settings -- such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, shelters, jails and prisons -- that have had at least one case. Those institutions have had a total of 596 cases and 37 deaths, all among residents.

As of Tuesday, roughly 36,500 people had been tested for the virus in the county, although Ferrer noted that number is likely low, since multiple new testing sites have opened in recent days but figures have not yet been gathered from those new locations.

The county has set a goal of testing 10,000 people per day. With roughly 10% of those people ultimately testing positive, Ferrer has warned that the daily increases in case numbers will likely approach about 1,000.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health stated that an initial look at race and ethnicity data points toward African-American residents having a slightly higher death rate from the virus than other ethnic groups.

RELATED: African Americans have slightly higher COVID-19 death rate than other races, ethnicities: Public Health

Ferrer stressed that the ethnic data on the county's fatalities is very preliminary, noting that race/ethnicity data was unavailable on 43% of the 169 people who have died in the county from the virus.

Echoing guidance from the White House, Ferrer on Monday said people should try to avoid leaving their homes altogether for the next two weeks as the pandemic is expected to worsen across the country. 

"If you have enough supplies in your home, this would be the week to skip shopping altogether," she said.

RELATED: Health officials advice to avoid grocery stores, pharmacies as peak of COVID-19 pandemic looms

Public Health advised residents against leaving their homes for groceries or medications, encouraging residents to arrange to have them delivered instead, if necessary.

Public Health continues to stress to the public that while a majority of those who have died from COVID-19 in the county had underlying health conditions, not everyone does. Residents are urged to continue to take the necessary precautions in order to protect themselves from the virus.

Health officials say that social distancing remains our best defense against the virus, and all residents are instructed to abide by current measures in place across the state. Social distancing is not only about preventing the illness itself, but rather, slowing the rate at which people get sick. 

On April 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would be recommending people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The use of face coverings is believed to help slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus, without knowing it, from transmitting it to others.

The face coverings can be made at home from common materials at low cost, and the CDC has instructions on how to make them listed on its website

This comes as more evidence is emerging that coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms. Last week, the CDC changed how it was defining risk of infection for Americans, saying anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.

RELATED: Asymptomatic coronavirus cases appear to be on the rise in China, report says

In accordance with new guidelines from the CDC, Public Health said that anyone who begins to experience symptoms must contact those they were in contact with up to 48 hours prior to having symptoms in order for them to self-isolate.

Public Health requests that anyone who experiences any symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate for the 14-day quarantine period in order to help slow the spread.

According to the CDC, symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should call their healthcare provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care so that appropriate precautions can be taken.

RELATED: CoronavirusNOW.com, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates. 

Public Health has issued the following guidance during this time of increased spread:

"If you are mildly sick, stay home for at least seven days or until 72 hours after being fever free, whichever is longer. Call your doctor if you are concerned and/or your symptoms worsen. Individuals who are elderly, have underlying health conditions or pregnant should consider contacting their providers earlier when they are sick."

Click here for a list of locations of confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.

CNS contributed to this report.