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COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts Advancing In L.A. County, Equity Issues Remain

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More than 1.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Los Angeles County, but equity in the distribution of the shots continues to vex health officials, with vaccination rates among eligible Black residents lagging far behind other ethnic groups, according to data released Friday. 

According to figures released by the county Department of Public Health, Black residents represented just 5.2% of all people who had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of mid-February, while 33.5% were white, 23.1% Latino and 19.1% Asian. 

Only 24% of Black residents aged 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 42.8% of white residents 65 and up. During a virtual briefing Friday, Dr. Paul Simon, the county health department’s chief science officer, presented a countywide map highlighting vaccination rates in individual communities. 

“There are marked inequities in vaccination coverage across the county, with the lowest coverage rates in South L.A., East L.A., several regions of the San Gabriel Valley, the east San Fernando Valley and the Antelope Valley, as well as several pockets near the ports and below West Hollywood,” Simon said. 

He acknowledged that the coverage rates were calculated based on each area’s overall population, not the number of people actually eligible to receive the shots. But he said despite that limitation, “the findings are deeply concerning and provide further illustration of the deeply rooted health inequities that exist in our society.” 

Simon said the county is planning a number of steps to address the inequities, such as prioritizing the establishment of more vaccination sites in areas with the lowest rates, expanding mobile vaccination services to serve older residents and people with limited ability to travel to vaccine sites. 

The county is also reserving doses so they can be administered in under-served communities, with 6,000 to 7,000 doses expected to be reserved next week for South Los Angeles and 1,000 to 2,000 in the Antelope Valley, he said. `

`These inequities are unjust and unacceptable and demand renewed efforts to address them,” Simon said. 

The county also plans to reserve appointment slots at its various vaccination sites for residents of under-served communities, and it will be increasing efforts to help residents schedule appointments.

 Efforts have previously been made to ensure easy access to vaccinations for residents of traditionally underserved areas, notably through the placement of mass-vaccination sites in locations such as the Forum in Inglewood, the county Office of Education in Downey and the Pomona Fairplex. 

But Simon noted that while he had no specific numbers, it was clear that sites like the Forum — despite being targeted for residents of that area – – were administering shots to people from more affluent neighborhoods who traveled to the location. `

`I don’t have to look at the numbers to be aware. I’ve worked at several of the Mega PODs (points of distribution) and it really was quite striking,” Simon said. “… It’s an observation that many have made that many people receiving vaccinations at these large Mega PODs were not from the neighborhood.”

He said it is difficult to immediately address the issue, but when the state’s “My Turn” appointment system becomes the universal standard for reserving a vaccination slot, it may be possible to ensure times are being reserved solely for local or underserved communities. 

Simon said the county is also trying to increase its work with community leaders to help counter what he called continuing misinformation about the safety of the vaccines that is likely contributing to low vaccination rates. 

According to figures provided by Simon, the county has administered a total of 1,205,738 first doses of the vaccine, along with 471,162.

 That means 15.5% of the county’s population aged 16 and over have received at least one dose, and 6% are fully vaccinated. 

Simon said there are still issues with vaccine supply, although the county’s sites were largely spared from the weather-related delivery problems that forced the Los Angeles city vaccination sites to close this week. 

Health officials have been warning of a difficult month ahead in terms of access to vaccines, with the already jammed appointment system expected to get even more crowded March 1 when essential workers such as teachers, food service workers and law enforcement become eligible for shots.

In mid-March, everyone aged 16 and over with a serious underlying health condition will become eligible. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said the state in March will begin reserving 10% of the overall supply of vaccines to be administered to teachers, as part of an effort to speed a return to in-person classes. 

Simon said he did not envision that restriction causing major issues in the county, since health officials planned to allocate “a significant percentage” to teachers and the other categories of essential workers.

 Meanwhile, COVID case numbers have continued to trend downward in the county, although still well above the levels seen prior to the winter surge that began in November. 

On Thursday, the county reported another 153 deaths, while Long Beach announced 10 fatalities and Pasadena added 1, raising the overall death toll to 19,525. Another 2,873 cases were confirmed by the county Thursday, while Long Beach reported 83 and Pasadena 22, lifting the cumulative number from throughout the pandemic to 1,174,445. 

The county had not yet released its updated figures for Friday. Hospital patient numbers continued to decline, with state figures showing a total of 2,498 people hospitalized in Los Angeles County as of Friday, with 760 people in intensive care. 

That compares to 2,640 overall patients and 808 ICU patients on Thursday. In early January, there were more than 8,000 people hospitalized in the county.

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Coronavirus

California Keeps Mask Mandate Until June 15 Despite CDC Guidelines

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California public health officials announced Monday the state is keeping the current mask mandate until June 15 despite updated federal guidance for those fully vaccinated.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, Health and Human Services secretary, said California is expected to modify the mask mandate in June when the Blueprint for a Safer Economy is no longer in effect.

On Thursday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said those who are fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing.

Ghaly added the state wants to give local governments and businesses more time to implement the relaxed mask rules. 

“This is in no way saying that the science or direction of the CDC’s guidelines is wrong. It’s just giving us some extra time to have this implemented with a high degree of integrity,” Ghaly said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger sent a letter Friday asking the state to align with federal guidelines on face coverings.

“The State of California now boasts the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation. Yet, the state still maintains some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in the Country,” Barger wrote.

Los Angeles County cannot loosen its existing mandates until the state regulations are updated, according to the supervisor. 

Major retailers, including Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks and Costco, have dropped their mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers.

In order to be considered fully vaccinated, residents must wait two weeks after their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or the first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the CDC.

Anyone 12 years and older living or working in Los Angeles County can now get vaccinated. For more information, visit here.

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City Of Los Angeles Expands COVID-19 Vaccination Site Hours To Increase Access

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Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a series of steps to expand COVID-19 vaccine access among Angelenos at Los Angeles-City run sites on Monday.

 Efforts include extending hours to 8 p.m. at nine fixed City-run sites; administering all three approved vaccines at mass vaccination centers; and offering doses appointment-free across Los Angeles. These increases in operations come on the heels of the announcement by public health professionals that 12 to 15-year-olds are eligible to get vaccinated.

“We can end this pandemic, restore public health, and rebuild our economy, but only if we can put vaccines within reach of every Angeleno, regardless of income, zip code, or neighborhood,” said Garcetti in a statement. “With expanded hours and growing eligibility, we are doing everything we can to reach residents who have yet to get vaccinated — and make it as easy and safe as possible to deliver doses across our communities.”  

To get the vaccines into more arms across Los Angeles, the City eliminated the appointment requirement and piloted evening hours earlier this month. After seeing a 200% increase in demand for evening vaccinations over the last two weeks, the City will extend hours until 8 p.m. at all of its permanent locations, except for Dodger Stadium, which will remain open until 4 p.m. 

All fixed sites will operate from Monday to Saturday, with the exception of Dodger Stadium, which will permanently close on Thursday, May 20. 

Most mobile locations will operate between Tuesday and Saturday from the hours of 9 am to 3 p.m., except for two-night clinics at South L.A. Wetlands Park and Sylmar Recreation Center, which will run until 9 p.m. 

Angelenos who visit any fixed site with extended hours will be able to choose from any of the three vaccines currently available: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

This week, City vaccination sites will have the capacity to administer roughly 250,000 doses to Angelenos across 10 permanent sites and each of the Mobile Outreach for Vaccine Equity (MOVE) clinics.

Equity remains a key focus of the City’s vaccination program. The MOVE initiative delivers doses directly to neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic, administering 111,719 so far. This week, the City will deploy 10 mobile teams, serving residents in South L.A., East L.A. and parts of the Valley, including South Park, Chesterfield Square/Harvard Park, Vermont Vista, Watts, Boyle Heights, Wilmington, Van Nuys, Sylmar and others. 

Pre-registration is not required, but Angelenos who wish to plan ahead can visit here to sign up or find the nearest location. 

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Supervisor Barger Urges State To Align With CDC Mask Guidelines

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Supervisor Kathryn Barger sent a letter Friday asking the state to align with federal guidelines on face coverings for those who are fully vaccinated. 

Barger urged Governor Gavin Newsom to modify California’s mask mandate to follow the protocols announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.

“As you know, the Centers for Disease Control has announced that it is now safe for fully vaccinated Americans to not wear masks or practice physical distancing in most situations,” Barger wrote. “Additionally, the State of California now boasts the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation. Yet, the State still maintains some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in the Country.”

Los Angeles County cannot loosen its existing mandates until the state regulations are updated, according to the supervisor. 

Barger said it is appropriate for the California Department of Public Health and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to change the existing distancing and masking requirements in alignment with the new guidelines. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing on Thursday anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky said. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

In order to be considered fully vaccinated, residents must wait two weeks after their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or the first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the CDC.

“Los Angeles County is committed to implementing safe, sensible directives that still protect our recovery and prevent regression to high positive case rates,” Barger wrote. “We especially want to ensure protections for workers, particularly those who work indoors, including on public transportation and in schools, large venues, and congregate housing such as jails, shelters and skilled nursing facilities.”

The L.A. County Department of Public Health continues to offer vaccinations without appointments at County-run vaccination sites while supply lasts. 

Anyone 12 years and older living or working in Los Angeles County can now get vaccinated. For more information, visit here.

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