Covid-19 - photo courtesy of Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

One Year Ago Today (May 16, 2021)…Los Angeles County reported 240 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths, though health officials said the number of cases and deaths reported likely reflect reporting delays over the weekend.

Sunday’s figures brought the county’s totals to 1,237,411 cases and 24,094 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

According to state figures, there were 322 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Sunday, down from 325 the day before. Of those patients, 68 were in intensive care, down from 73.

More than 6,643,000 test results have been reported, with 17% of people testing positive. The daily positivity rate over a seven-day average was 0.4% as of Sunday, the department said.

“As more sectors and businesses open, and capacity increases at indoor activities, it’s very important that we continue to implement safety protocols to avoid transmission and outbreaks,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday.

“At this point in time, everyone needs to adhere to required Cal/OSHA distancing and masking at all workplaces. State and county directives require that everyone wear a mask when at businesses and in crowded venues. With just 40% of LA County residents fully vaccinated, public health safety measures, including masking, distancing, and hand washing, will help us avoid additional cases.”

Health officials said inspectors have been following up to ensure businesses are following the health safety protocols since the county entered the least restrictive yellow tier of the state’s economic reopening system. Last weekend, inspectors visited 304 restaurants and issued only one citation, they said.

Inspectors also visited 29 bars, 13 breweries, wineries, or tasting rooms, 27 retail sales establishments, 51 gyms and fitness centers, 77 hair salons or barbershops, 99 food markets, and 86 personal care businesses, and overall found very good compliance with the health officer order.

On Friday, breaking ranks with her county’s public health agency, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger has called on the governor to immediately relax COVID-19 mask-wearing requirements to align with eased guidelines announced by federal authorities for fully vaccinated people.

“Los Angeles County has made tremendous progress vaccinating residents, including those in our hard-hit communities,” Barger said in a statement. “Furthermore, our positivity rate is less than 1% and our case rate remains low. While we still want to keep our communities safe, I am encouraged by the new guidance from the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and believe that the state and Los Angeles County should immediately align with the new federal recommendations.”

The CDC released guidance Thursday saying people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can largely stop wearing masks in most indoor and outdoor situations. The new CDC guidance does not completely drop mask recommendations for vaccinated people. Face coverings are still recommended in some settings — such as aboard planes and buses or in crowded settings such as hospitals.

The announcement, however, has set off confusion, since many states and local jurisdictions — including California and Los Angeles County — still have mask requirements in place. The CDC only releases general guidance, but individual jurisdictions can impose restrictions based on local virus circumstances.

L.A. County requirements allow fully vaccinated residents to shed masks while indoors with other fully vaccinated people. But mask mandates remain in place for everyone working at or patronizing businesses — such as grocery stores, restaurants or retail shops.

Ferrer said the state and county were reviewing the new CDC guidance, but changes in local regulations were unlikely to occur for at least another week. She stressed that mask mandates remain in place largely to protect workers and customers at worksites, and state occupational health and safety regulators need to set policy for masking and social distancing in the workplace.

Supermarket chains including Trader Joe’s, Costco and Walmart have dropped the mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers, though store officials said they will not be asking for proof of vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccinations efforts expanded last week to include youth aged 12-15. Most providers in the county began offering shots to that age group on Thursday, but the city of Los Angeles’ sites did not start until Friday.

Vaccinations are now available appointment-free at most sites in the county.

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