While COVID-19 cases continue declining generally across Los Angeles County, health officials Wednesday pointed to plummeting infections and deaths among health care workers as evidence of vaccine effectiveness.
Health care workers were the first group of people to become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines beginning in December, just as a winter surge in cases was taking hold. According to the county Department of Public Health, nearly 2,000 new COVID-19 infections among health care workers were confirmed in the last week of December. Last week, there were 24.
Since March, the county has averaged less than 50 cases per week among health care workers.
Throughout the pandemic, there have been 265 deaths among health care workers due to the virus, with 24 occurring during one week at the height of the winter surge in early January. Only one health care worker has died in the past month.
Health officials cited the numbers in a continuing effort to convince an increasingly hesitant public about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines, for which demand has dropped sharply in recent weeks.
Public health officials noted that 82% of staff at skilled nursing facilities in the county are fully vaccinated, and during the week of May 8, only seven staffers tested positive for the virus. That was down from more than 1,100 who tested positive during the first week of January.
“With summer and full re-openings around the corner, there will be increased risk for COVID-19 to spread among unvaccinated people,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Millions of people are fully vaccinated, but millions are still not. While substantially lower than the peak, the suffering and deaths that continue to occur among unvaccinated people are, for the most part, preventable because the vaccine provides superior protection.
“If you are already vaccinated, please encourage your friends and family that are not yet vaccinated, to get protected with the vaccine. Increasing the number of people vaccinated is the path to community immunity,” she said.
The county reported 11 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, while Long Beach added one, raising the overall death toll to 24,195.
Another 205 cases were also confirmed by the county, with Long Beach reporting 25 and Pasadena one, increasing the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,239,306.
According to state figures, there were 325 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday, up from 320 on Tuesday. There were 61 people in intensive care, down from 68 on Tuesday.
According to weekly figures released by the state Tuesday, the county’s average daily rate of new COVID-19 infections fell to 0.9 per 100,000 residents, down from 1.2 per 100,000 residents last week.
The continued decline leaves the county firmly in the least-restrictive yellow tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which guides restrictions on business activity and gatherings during the pandemic.
The county’s current testing-positivity rate also fell again, according to the state figures, dropping from 0.6% last week to 0.5% this week.
Ferrer announced Monday that 50% of the county’s population aged 16 and over are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But vaccination demand has continued to dwindle, leaving significant gaps among ethnic groups, with vaccine rates among Black and Latino communities lagging behind those of white and Asian residents.
County officials are urging as many people as possible to get vaccinated ahead of June 15, when the state and county plan to lift the vast majority of COVID restrictions, including all capacity limits and physical distancing requirements.
In hopes of getting more people to vaccination sites, the county plans to offer more incentives, with prizes such as gift cards and sports tickets likely to be offered in coming weeks. Ferrer said the giveaways will be announced through the county’s social media platforms.
Over the weekend, people over age 18 who got vaccinated at county- or city-run sites were given a chance to win Laker season tickets. Ferrer said sports teams and local event venues are chipping in to provide additional incentives in hopes of boosting vaccination rates ahead of the planned June 15 lifting of the bulk of COVID restrictions across California.