With initial vaccines on the way, LA County tops 4,000 hospitalizations
As the number of Los Angeles County residents hospitalized with the coronavirus surpassed 4,000 for the first time, local health officials anticipated the arrival of the first wave of coronavirus vaccines, shipped Sunday, Dec. 13, from Pfizer’s Michigan complex.
Confirmation that Southland health-care workers were likely to get their shots in the next couple of days helped blunt the latest rash of unnerving statistics — including 12,731 new COVID-19 cases and 29 new deaths — from the county’s Department of Public Health. Statewide, with 30,334 new cases, California now has 1,551,766 confirmed infections.
As of Sunday, 4,009 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 — an increase from 3,850 on Saturday — with 21% in intensive-care units, fueling officials’ fears that local hospitals could be overrun by acute cases in the weeks ahead.
The new numbers bring the county’s totals to 525,486 cases and 8,298 fatalities since the pandemic began. Last week was record-shattering by all key public health indicators. A month ago, the five-day average of cases was 2,134; on Sunday it was 12,017 — an increase of 463%. The five-day average of deaths one month ago was 12; it was 60 as of Sunday, a 400% increase. During that same span, hospitalizations escalated by more than 300%.
Dwindling ICU capacity prompted the state to impose a regional stay at home order for the 11-county Southern California region earlier this month. The order was triggered when overall ICU capacity dropped below 15%. As of Sunday, the state’s estimated ICU capacity for the region — adjusted based on the percentage of current COVID versus non-COVID ICU patients — dropped to 4.2%, down more than a percentage point from Saturday’s 5.3%.
But with vaccines on their way to deployment sites around the nation, medical and government officials embraced a glimpse of hope amid the worsening outbreak.
”This is a major step forward in terms of turning the tide of this pandemic and giving us hope for 2021,” Dr. Rita Shane, chief pharmacy officer and professor of medicine at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai medical center, said Sunday. “From a healthcare perspective, this is the first pandemic in 100 years, and I am so proud of what warp speed has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time.”
Cedars-Sinai officials said the timetable for when the vaccines would land there was not yet confirmed, but was expected early in the week.
Los Angeles County expects to receive nearly 83,000 doses of the vaccine this week, with the initial doses distributed to 83 acute-care hospitals for administration to critical frontline workers.
“Los Angeles County is working with a variety of partners around the county in storing and housing the vaccine,” the county’s health department said Sunday. “In the interest of the safety of the workers at these sites, Los Angeles County is not releasing details about these locations.”
UCLA Health officials said they expected to get the vaccines Monday or Tuesday, with shots administered on Wednesday.
“UCLA Health is implementing comprehensive and detailed plans to receive, store and administer COVID-19 vaccinations. We anticipate a limited number of doses arriving in the next day or two, with additional supplies to follow. We have been designated as a regional hub for distribution to other acute-care hospitals,” a UCLA Health statement said.
Last week, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that the county hopes to receive its second allotment of a vaccine made by Moderna — about 250,000 doses, pending FDA approval — around Dec. 20-21. By sending the doses directly to skilled nursing facilities, the vaccine can be administered right away instead of waiting for a federal agreement with CVS and Walgreens to begin on roughly Dec. 28.
Staff and residents of nursing facilities and long-term care facilities will be among the first wave of people receiving the Moderna vaccine.
Ferrer said public health officials Friday began the process of training skilled nursing facility staff on how to administer the vaccination, while noting that those staffers already administer flu vaccines, so it is not a new experience.
The pharmacies, however, will still work through the federal agreement with CVS and Walgreens to provide the vaccine to long-term care facilities.
“Our pharmacy partners … will continue to roll out as soon as that system is turned on,” she said. “They will continue to roll out vaccination opportunities at all the other long-term care facilities, of which there are hundreds here in L.A. County, and we’re going to be relying heavily on them to really move that forward very quickly as well.”
The county anticipates receiving another 150,000 doses of vaccine by the end of December, followed by weekly allotments of 250,000 beginning in January.
After the distribution of vaccines to health care workers, skilled nursing facilities and long-term care staff and residents is completed, priority will then move to “essential workers” and then to people at highest risk of severe illness from the virus, such as seniors or those with underlying health conditions.
The county’s chief science officer insisted Thursday the process will be done equitably based on health priorities, and not power or prominence.
“Equity is a fundamental principle here,” Dr. Paul Simon said. “We want to make sure all people have access, and that those that are at greatest risk either because of higher risk of exposure, or greater risk of severe illness because of chronic health conditions or other factors have more immediate access to the vaccine.”
Simon conceded that the judgment of who is considered “at risk” could become a matter for debate.
“That probably is going to become an important consideration when we really start to roll things out — when we move beyond the highest-risk groups into groups where the risks may be a little bit more uncertain or there are larger areas of gray,” he said. “And there, I think, we will do our best to prioritize, be as transparent as possible. I don’t think we’re going to be doing validation checks with each person as they float through the line, so I think there is sort of an honor system to some degree. But we will do everything possible to make sure we are doing this in an equitable manner, tending to the risks and making sure that we maximize the benefits.”