LOS Angeles County is showing a steady decline in coronavirus cases, but health officials are continuing to urge residents to help slow the spread as the region faces a vaccine shortage.
On Friday, February 12, the county reported 3,497 new cases and 137 additional deaths, bringing the total to 1,161,773 infections and 18,789 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.
With Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day ahead, officials are reminding the public that the pandemic is far from over. The impact of Super Bowl weekend has also yet to be seen on the county’s case rates.
“The only way for us to continue to slow transmission is for everyone to choose safety this upcoming weekend and spend time celebrating the weekend’s holidays just with members of your household and making plants to connect virtually with all others,” said Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez, director of cardiovascular and school health at the county’s Department of Public Health, during a press briefing on Thursday.
Currently, 3,772 individuals are hospitalized and 29% are in the ICU.
Hospitalizations in the county have declined by 42%, as of this month, but hospital beds and ICU capacities remain limited. Fatalities are still “distressingly high” with an average of 200 individuals passing each day.
“If everyone can do their part to prevent transmission, we can reduce pressure on our hospitals by decreasing the number of people that end up getting very sick from the virus,” Gonzalez said. “This will enable hospitals to have staff and resources necessary to accommodate other types of medical needs and procedures that have been delayed because of the high numbers of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care.”
She added that with the current hospitalizations, the county can anticipate more individuals dying of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. The only way for the fatality rate to decline is if case rates drop too.
“Community transmission remains widespread and there is significant risk in every action you take outside your house,” Gonzalez said.
Low vaccine supply
President Joe Biden on Thursday said his administration has secured another 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines by the end of July, increasing the likelihood of having all Americans vaccinated by then.
In the meantime, California is experiencing a shortage in its vaccine supplies and officials are pleading for more doses to get jabs into the arms of medical workers, long-term facility residents, and seniors, who are the current groups eligible. On Friday, state health officials said by mid-March, individuals between 16 and 64 years old, who are disabled or are at high risk for mortality from COVID-19 — due to underlying factors like cancer or heart conditions — could receive the vaccine.
It previously announced that Blue Shield of California would take over the state’s vaccination campaign.
As of Tuesday, Feb. 9, 1,229,888 doses have been administered in LA county — 986,134 to first-timers and 243,754 for the second round.
“As our vaccination program continues, we’re looking at strategies that improve access to vaccines for people who are older, with limited mobility, and needing assistance securing appointments,” Gonzalez said, detailing some of the county’s initiatives to reach seniors living in housing developments or in communities disproportionately affected by the virus.
The county said that its mega vaccination sites this past week would only have enough to accommodate second dose appointments. This comes as it announced that it would expand inoculations to more essential workers in education, food and agriculture and emergency services and law enforcement, which could begin in two to three weeks.
Meanwhile, the city of LA had turn individuals away by Thursday and close down its five sites over the weekend, including Dodger Stadium. Mayor Eric Garcetti said they would reopen once another shipment of vaccines arrives.
“We’re vaccinating people faster than new vials are arriving here in Los Angeles, and I’m very concerned right now,” Garcetti said during a press conference on Wednesday night.
“I’m concerned as your mayor that our vaccine supply is uneven, it’s unpredictable and, too often, inequitable.”
Even when individuals receive both doses of either vaccine, they are reminded to follow health protocols like wearing a mask and physical distancing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that should fully vaccinated people come into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus, they may be able to skip quarantining only if they have remained asymptomatic and if it has been within three months of the last dose.
Officials said that LA County is still upholding its local guidance that if individuals are coming from outside the county, they are still required to quarantine for at least 10 days.
“We are still examining that data and we’ll make a determination as to whether or not we’re going to follow suit with CDC locally. But at this time, we’re still requiring individuals to isolate or to quarantine if they become symptomatic, even after they received both doses of the vaccine,” Gonzalez said.
Local officials and health care workers also continuing to debunk misinformation and scams about the COVID-19 vaccine that may leave communities vulnerable.
Among the common scams is that fraudsters are alleging that they can offer an opportunity to jump ahead in the vaccine line by paying or providing personal information. Eligible individuals cannot show up at a vaccine site without first obtaining an appointment. The department is also not sharing any personal information, like immigration status, with other agencies.
“You do not need citizenship or a legal residency to receive the vaccine here in LA County. You just need to prove you live within the county,” Gonzalez said.
She also warned about ads about fake vaccines or miracle cures (e.g. vitamins or dietary supplements) that have been rampant since the beginning of the pandemic.
Another big issue in Black and brown communities is hesitancy, Dr. Raymond Perry said during Thursday’s briefing. (As of Feb. 8, county data showed that 25% of vaccine doses went to White residents, 25% to Latinos, 18% to Asians, and 3.5% to African American/Black residents.)
“I know that many residents in our communities of color are more likely to potentially have some distrust with some aspects of our health care system. There is definitely a long history that can’t be forgotten — that includes racism and injustice against us when it comes to medical treatments and access to care,” said Perry, who serves as the director of the Hubert Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center in South LA.
As a physician on the frontlines, Perry said he was eager to receive the vaccine and is doing his part to assuage fears in the community.
“Having seen the devastation that COVID has had here in Los Angeles — and even having been personally affected by family and friends that have been sick or even died from COVID — it was really important for me to get this vaccine as soon as it was available,” he said. “Now I feel like it’s important for me and other health care workers to continue to encourage other people to get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.”
Individuals can sign up for a vaccine appointment via vaccinateLACounty.com. Those with disabilities or without computer access can call (833) 540-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. PST seven days a week for assistance with booking.