Caseloads turn increasingly younger while death toll continues to skew older

Los Angeles County reported 521 new cases of COVID-19 and 56 additional fatalities on Saturday, March 20, with more than 70% of the new cases from people under the age of 50 years old.

Conversely, 93% of the 56 reported deaths were people over the age of 50, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“Many younger people are out socializing with non-household members, raising concerns that asymptomatic young people are unknowingly helping to spread the virus to more vulnerable people,” Public Health Directors Barbara Ferrer said. “Though we are making good progress in our vaccination efforts, we are entering a potentially perilous time if people let their guard down. It is important that we remain disciplined in our adherence to use of face masks, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and delaying any non-essential travel. This is particularly important with the recent movement of the county to the red tier and as restrictions get lifted.”

Saturday’s numbers brought the county’s totals to 1,213,784 cases and 22,777 deaths since the pandemic began.

The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus continued to decline, dropping from 827 Friday to 792, with 216 in intensive care, according to state figures. It the was first time the total dipped under 800 since Nov. 1.

On the vaccination front, the county crossed the milestone of administering 3 million doses this week, and its science officer said planning is under way for an anticipated dramatic increase in vaccine supply in hopes of eventually doling out 1 million doses per week.

The county currently has the capability of administering about 630,000 doses per week, but due to limited supply, only about 300,000 to 350,000 doses are actually being administered per week. Next week, the county will only be receiving about 280,000 doses, although that number will be augmented by supplies sent directly to some providers, such as the federally operated site at Cal State Los Angeles.

Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county health department, said Friday that given the progress already being made in vaccinations, if supplies dramatically increase by late April or early May —as predicted by President Joe Biden — the county could move rather quickly through the rest of the population.

“To ensure we are prepared for this increase, we have begun planning with our vaccine provider network to expand countywide vaccination capacity to more than 1 million doses per week,” Simon said. “Recently, President Biden made the announcement of opening up vaccinations to everyone over the age of 16 by May 1. We look forward (to working) with the state to meet this goal.”

But he also warned that despite the progress in vaccinations, “we are entering a perilous time.”

“In Europe and some regions of the U.S. there has been a recent resurgence in cases and hospitalizations,” he said. “In addition, spread of virus variants remains a major concern. For this reason, it is imperative that we remain disciplined in our adherence to the use of face masks, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings and delaying any non-essential travel.”

According to Simon, as of Wednesday, 3,234,989 total doses of the vaccine were administered in the county, although he conceded that due to reporting delays the number is likely much higher.

Of those doses, 2,177,195 were first doses — including 25,170 of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and 1,057,794 were second doses. That means roughly 1,080,000 people who live or work in the county have been fully vaccinated.

Simon said if vaccinations continue on the current pace, by the time supplies increase in late April or early May, the county will be deep into the inoculation effort. If the county begins receiving up to 1 million doses per week — with a good amount of it the one-dose Johnson & Johnson medication —”we could then work through the general adult population pretty quickly, within a month or two.”

Meanwhile, California officials said Saturday that they updated K-12 school guidance to align with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance Friday, indicating that physical distancing among students in classrooms could be reduced from the standard six feet down to three.

Simon said that guidance will likely be incorporated into the county’s guidelines for schools, although health officials have not yet had a chance to discuss the issue. He stressed, however, that the three-foot guidance applies only to schools.

“It’s specifically in the classroom,” he said. “So what I don’t want folks to do is say, ‘Well, gee, three feet is fine virtually anywhere.’ That’s definitely not the case. It was very specific in their guidelines, three feet in the classroom — elementary, middle and high school classrooms — but making sure everybody is wearing face masks all the time and that the classes are cohorting.”

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