While Los Angeles County continues to see falling numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and other metrics, the pace of residents being vaccinated remains relatively stagnant, and the county’s public health director warned that the pandemic will only end if that pace quickens.
“Time is no longer on our side,” Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “We’ve been here before. During early fall 2020, community transmission was low, until then it wasn’t. Last winter was brutal. And given the unpredictability of the virus and its variants, we need to accelerate the pace of vaccinations, since this is the most effective tool we have to prevent another deadly surge.
“So for those not yet vaccinated, please reassess your decision and factor in the 26,000 residents that have died of COVID,” she said.
Despite repeated calls for people to get vaccinated — and the pending imposition of vaccine mandates at locations such as large event venues and at indoor bars and other settings — the number of first doses being administered across the county continues to fall. During the week ending Sept. 19, about 44,000 doses were administered in the county, Ferrer said.
“For now it suggests that our vaccination progress is going much more slowly than we need it to be,” she said. “And although booster shots are getting a lot of media attention, it’s still most important for us to increase the numbers of first dose recipients. The only way to get to community immunity is to get more people vaccinated who have not yet received their first dose.
“At the same time that we continue to encourage those that are eligible to get their first dose, given the significant gaps in coverage, mask-wearing and vaccine requirements are especially important in helping us reduce the worst outcomes of COVID infection and the increased probability if unchecked transmission occurs that there will be new variants of concern.”
As of Sept. 23, 77% of eligible county residents aged 12 and over had received at least one dose of vaccine, and 69% are fully vaccinated.
Los Angeles County’s 100,000-plus employees are required by Friday to provide proof of full vaccination. But county CEO Fesia Davenport told the board Tuesday that so far, only about 67,000 employees had uploaded their vaccination status on the county’s computerized data-collection system, and of those, 58,865 reported that they were fully vaccinated, while another 1,627 indicated they were partially vaccinated. Nearly 6,000 who registered on the system reported they were not vaccinated, Davenport said.
Davenport noted that some county employees reported their vaccination status earlier through individual systems enacted by various departments prior to the countywide vaccine mandate being issued. She said the county is working to transfer that data into the countywide system “so we can have more complete information.”
On Tuesday, Ferrer reported another 29 COVID-19 deaths in the county, raising the overall death toll from the pandemic to 26,047. She said that translates to one of every 400 county residents dying from the virus.
She also announced another 1,147 new cases, bringing the cumulative pandemic total to 1,456,275.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus remained low, at about 1%. Ferrer said the testing positivity rate and the rate of new cases are both down from last week.
Hospitalization numbers also continued to fall, with state figures showing there were 892 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, including 263 in intensive care. That’s down from 908 patients on Monday.
The number of COVID-positive people hospitalized in the county has fallen 26 times in the past 29 days, bringing the number down from a summer peak of nearly 1,800.
Booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination became available in Los Angeles County for select residents, with federal health officials giving final approval to the additional vaccine dose to bolster virus protection for higher-risk groups.
An advisory panel for the CDC on Thursday recommended Pfizer booster shots for people 65 and older, those in long-term care facilities and people 50-64 with underlying health conditions, as well as select people aged 18-49 with serious health issues. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Friday endorsed the recommendation, and expanded it to include people at increased risk of infection due to their occupation.
Booster shots are only available for people who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago. Boosters have not yet been approved for people who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Appointments for booster shots can be made through the state’s MyTurn website. Appointments can also be made directly at pharmacies or clinics that offer Pfizer vaccines.
Ferrer has noted that the county has 1,300 fixed vaccination sites, along with 400 mobile clinics, meaning there’s a local capacity to administer 130,000 shots per day.