Saying the area is enduring an “explosion” of COVID-19 infections, Los Angeles County’s public health director warned Tuesday that case numbers will continue to rise through September in large part due to wide-ranging testing mandates at schools and businesses, but she continued to profess the effectiveness of vaccines.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, told the Board of Supervisors that the agency will issue a revised health order this week aligning with a new state mandate requiring all workers at health-care facilities to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. But the county’s order will be slightly more expansive, including vaccination requirements for emergency medical technicians, paramedics, dental-service workers and home health care workers.
“Over the coming weeks, we will work collaboratively and closely with our health care and labor partners to develop an effective education and implementation strategy,” Ferrer told the board. “… We favor COVID vaccination for everyone eligible because of the mounting evidence that these vaccines are effective and safe and provide the most powerful tool for ending the pandemic.”
She warned that without a significant increase in vaccinations, infections will continue to rise with the proliferation of the highly infections Delta variant of the virus.
“It’s just intolerable to not make good progress given sort of the dangers the Delta variant is presenting,” she said. “We’re not plodding along any more with this virus. This variant is not a plodder. This variant, you know, affects many more people at a time. One person can infect many more people at a time if they’re infected with the Delta variant, and that’s all we’re seeing is the delta variant. So with this explosion in cases, the best strategy right now from our perspective is to double-down on getting more and more people vaccinated.”
She also said the fact that some fully vaccinated people are still contracting the virus should not dissuade people from getting the shots. She again provided statistics showing that the chance of a vaccinated person being infected is less than 1%, and those who do become infected rarely become sick enough to require hospitalization.
As of Aug. 3, of more than 5 million fully vaccinated county residents, 15,628 tested positive, for a rate of 0.31%, Ferrer said. There were 446 fully vaccinated people who have been hospitalized, a rate of 0.009%, and 41 died, a rate of 0.0008%.
“While it is true that these vaccines are not 100% perfect, no vaccines are,” she said.
The county reported another 2,622 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, raising the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 1,331,859. Another 22 deaths were also reported, raising the county’s COVID death toll to 24,805.
The number of people hospitalized due to COVID rose to 1,573 as of Tuesday, with 350 people in intensive care. Ferrer said hospital patients are overwhelmingly unvaccinated, at about 90%. Between April and July, 96% of the people who died from the virus were unvaccinated, she said.
The county has seen increased daily numbers of infections since mid-June, when most COVID health restrictions were lifted. Ferrer again said the rate of case increases is slowing, but transmission remains widespread.
But she warned that case numbers will likely to continue at a high level through September, noting that the amount of COVID testing being done in the county will be “dramatically increasing” as schools, colleges and universities reopen.
“Many of these sites have regular screening testing,” she said. “Many of them have testing requirements upon entry and that will have tens of thousands more people getting tested every day. … It will add cases. We’re always glad … to have people tested and identified early on as positive for COVID because that means we can isolate them and quarantine their close contacts and cut that chain of transmission.
“But it does mean that for most of August and September we’re likely to see our case numbers climb,” Ferrer said. “The hope here will be that our test positivity does not.”
As of Tuesday, the county’s rolling average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 4.4%, down from 6.6% last week.
The most recent county figures show that 72% of residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 62% are fully vaccinated.