LA County looks to next phase of vaccinations: Essential workers
With coronavirus numbers still claiming disproportionately high numbers of Latino and Black lives, Los Angeles County officials on Wednesday said that workers in education, food, agricultural, and public safety will be eligible for vaccines within a couple of weeks, as the county moves into a new immunization phase.
The announcement came as the county scrambles to get vaccines to the 80% of the county’s 65-and-older population who have not yet been vaccinated. So far, 20 % have received at least one dose of the required two, officials said.
“At this this point we’d like to make significant inroads into getting people who are older vaccinated,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Vaccines by mobile teams, more than 350 community sites and community pharmacies are all either up and running or in the pipeline to help seniors get vaccinated. Low-cost or free public transit is available in some places and being studied for others.
“But it’s an acknowledgment that we do have to get started with some of our essential workers,” Ferrer said. “It’s going to be really difficult to wait weeks and weeks and weeks until we complete an entire sector before we move on.”
Some cities, like Long Beach, already have.But in giant L.A. County — and its 10 million people — moving on has been hard, as officials cope with sparse, unpredictable supplies to match its massive demand.
Already, L.A. County Health will need to finish vaccinating the elderly, and then begin vaccinating people in Phase 1B of the rollout — including workers in education, public safety and food and agricultural industries. All told, including seniors, that’s a population of about 2.4 million people for a county that is receiving about 200,000 doses a week — half of which goes to second doses.
Meanwhile, the gradual easing of the winter surge continues. On Wednesday, Public Health reported 141 new deaths from the virus — a tick lower than the more than 200 each day the county had been reporting of late. The county’s total of 18,500 deaths is the most in the state.
The county’s 3,434 new cases was a 70% drop from early January, adding to a total of 1,155,309 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Hospitalizations are falling dramatically, officials said. On Wednesday, 3,772 people were hospitalized in the county with the virus — a crisp fall from the 271 the day before.
The report did not include updated numbers for Long Beach and Pasadena, which operate their own health departments. Long Beach reported 12 deaths Wednesday, for a total of 739, and 151 new cases, for a total of 49,922. Pasadena reported seven additional deaths for a total of 287 and 31 new cases for a total of 10,562.
“Our optimism around this decrease is cautious,” Ferrer said.
She knows the history. Holidays, coupled with corresponding disregard for public health directives, have led to major surges in the region — the most recent, after Christmas — which had hospitals shifting to crisis mode.
Ferrer warned earlier this week that we’ll know in two weeks whether Super Bowl gatherings will have been yet another super-spreader event. And she noted there’s increasing concern about variants, which are thought to be more contagious than the initial strain of the virus.
Two reported cases of the South African variant of the virus were confirmed Tuesday in the Bay Area, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday.
While it’s not said to be more virulent, it is thought to be more contagious — a worry for public health officials who have reported 159 identifible case of the UK virus and 1,203 West Coast variants in the state.
In the meantime, Latino and Black communities are shouldering mortality rates and case rates much higher than White and Asian communities, Ferrer said.
With another virus surge still a significant threat, there’s a premium on the vaccine and its rollout.
It’s a race to get as much vaccine into people before variants can do damage, public health experts have said. And equity has become a ubiquitous word at a time when there’s so relatively little of the vaccine.
Newsom said the state isn’t holding back on whatever vaccine it does have, adding that the state has over the last seven days averaged over 181,000 doses every day and receiving a little over 1 million doses each week.
“We’re sending them everywhere,” he said. “The state doesn’t hold one vaccine. There’s not a vial in any warehouse in the state of California.”
The rollout itself is still shaky, with multiple glitches and confusion still reported.
Ferrer herself acknowledged that it in such a large county it can be frustrating to have, at times, to have differing portals to get to just to sign up — from the county to the state to new ones coming online.
“It is confusing at times,” she said.
In particular, the largest of all the vaccination centers is having a tough week.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that the Dodger Stadium clinic will be closed for at least two days this week, with the city’s current supply of first-dose Moderna vaccines expected to run out.
“This is an enormous hurdle in our race to vaccinate Angelenos,” Garcetti said during his evening briefing on Wednesday. “And unfortunately, it means that we will have to temporarily close Dodger Stadium and the other four non-mobile vaccination sites for two days, on Friday and Saturday.”
Garcetti said this supply hurdle does not affect people seeking a second dose.
Meanwhile, Garcetti issued a call for more vaccines to be supplied to the city. He said that recent deliveries of vaccine supplies have been steadily dwindling, down to 16,000 this week. That is typically how much is administered in a day, he said.
“That is unacceptable,” he said. “I’m not here to point fingers. I’m here, as always, to be a partner. But I want to be clear. Los Angeles needs more doses.”
Earlier this week, confusing communication left many appointments unfilled at the Chavez Ravine site. Emails went out to people who got their first Pfizer vaccine dose at one of five of the county’s giant mega-pod sites, reminding them of their second dose appointment. But the emails also went to some who got their first Moderna vaccine at smaller county community sites. Ultimately, the situation was corrected and all those needing to get the Pfizer vaccine got it, and corrected notifications were sent to the group needing the Moderna vaccine, Ferrer said.
First-dose vaccinations, however, continued at the stadium on Wednesday.