Los Angeles County reported 175 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths Sunday, though officials said the relatively low numbers may reflect delays in weekend reporting.
Sunday’s numbers brought L.A. County’s totals to 1,238,781 cases and 24,171 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
According to state figures, there were 319 people hospitalized in the county with COVID-19 as of Sunday, down from 339 on Saturday. There were 72 people in intensive care, down from 85 on Saturday.
On Saturday, health department officials said they were finding more cases of the UK variant B.1.1.7. Of the 40 specimens analyzed in the county laboratory in the past week, 53% were the UK variant and none were the California variant. The lab also detected six Brazil (P.1) variants last week and one South African variant (B.1.351).
Officials said recent research has provide added evidence that the currently available vaccines appear to be highly effective against the variants circulating in Southern California. They cited a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which showed that over the last few months, when the variants have been circulating, vaccines reduced the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 by 94% among fully vaccinated health care workers.
“There has now been ample research conducted on the vaccine, and study after study show extraordinarily high level of protection from COVID-19. We have so much proof that these vaccines are safe and very effective at preventing infection, serious illness and death from COVID-19,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday. “If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, this is a good weekend to do so; vaccines are available at some County-run sites without an appointment, and you could win Lakers season tickets.”
Local officials offered incentives for people to get vaccinated. Anyone 18 and older who gets a first dose at a county- or city-run vaccination site through Sunday was entered for a chance to win Lakers season tickets. People who got vaccinated at a Saturday clinic at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood were entered for a chance to win a pair of tickets to see the hit musical “Hamilton.”
The county will follow the state’s lead on June 15 and lift the majority of COVID-19 restrictions.
The state’s Health and Human Services secretary announced Friday that California is on track to do away with its Blueprint for a Safer Economy as planned on June 15, meaning all capacity and social distancing requirements will be eliminated and most vaccinated people will be able to shed their face masks. Some restrictions will remain, with attendance at large indoor events still requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
Los Angeles County and other regional health agencies are permitted to enact stricter health measures than the state, but the county Department of Public Health issued a statement saying it will align with the California regulations.
“I, like everyone in California, look forward to the changes that will come on June 15,” Ferrer said in a statement. “Together, we all worked hard and continue to work hard to keep numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths low in L.A. County. I can’t emphasize enough how the vaccine has allowed us to get to a place where we can safely do the things that we loved to do before the pandemic.
“If you have been putting off getting vaccinated, I ask that you not delay any longer and get vaccinated,” she said. “The COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations and deaths that are still occurring are almost all among people not fully vaccinated. This is preventable.”
Ferrer released figures Thursday showing that out of nearly 3.3 million people in the county who have been fully vaccinated, only 933 later contracted COVID-19, a rate of 0.03%. Of those 933 “breakthrough” cases, only 71 were hospitalized, for a rate of 0.002% of fully vaccinated people, and 12 had died, a rate of 0.00036%.
She noted that of the 12 people who died, four had “severely weakened immune systems” from prior medical conditions or medications, highlighting the need for such people to continue taking precautions even after being fully vaccinated.
As of May 16, more than 9.1 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the county, and more than 5 million residents have received at least one dose. She said among residents aged 16 and over, 61% have received at least one dose, and 47% are now considered fully vaccinated.
The numbers are better among older residents, with 84% of residents aged 65 and over receiving at least one dose, and 70% being fully vaccinated.
There continue to be racial and ethnic disparities. Among the population aged 16-64, just 34% of Black residents have received at least one dose, compared to 57% of whites and 67% of Asians. The rate for Latinx residents is 42%.
The county continues to operate large-scale vaccination sites, but the city of Los Angeles announced Friday it plans to phase out such large sites and switch to fully mobile vaccination efforts by Aug. 1. County officials have also been stepping up mobile vaccine clinics, targeting those communities with below-average vaccination rates.