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Increased COVID-19 Prevention Measures Expected As More L.A. County Businesses Open

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As more Los Angeles County businesses reopen amid the spread of COVID-19, public health officials stressed again on Wednesday the need for residents and merchants to follow health restrictions, noting that restaurants will face stepped-up infection-control requirements when they’re permitted to reopen Friday.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, did not outline specifics about additional requirements restaurants will be facing when patio dining returns.

Ferrer is scheduled to hold briefings with restaurant industry officials and employee unions Wednesday afternoon and said a revised health order outlining the restrictions could be released by Thursday night, allowing patio dining to resume Friday.

The county previously limited restaurants to 50% of their outdoor capacity, while requiring servers to wear masks and face shields, and mandating that tables be adequately spaced to ensure social distancing.

“Every person and every business must continue to take every precaution every day to prevent transmission,” Ferrer said. “None of us want to see this line (of new cases) start to go back up, and the only way to prevent that from happening is to keep doing what we know keeps this virus in check. It’s really up to us whether we can sustain these reopenings without jeopardizing each other’s health and our ability to get more schools to reopen.”

Ferrer said notices were being sent this week to all reopening businesses to remind them of the restrictions for various sectors, most involving capacity limits, face coverings and sanitation procedures. She also issued a warning to residents to limit gatherings, specifically citing the upcoming Super Bowl, reminding that past sporting events and celebrations during the Dodgers and Lakers championship runs contributed to spiking infections.

“We know that Super Bowl Sunday is coming up, and we can’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” she said. “It will be tragic if the Super Bowl becomes a super-spreader of coronavirus.”

Ferrer said that despite this week’s lifting of the state’s regional stay-at-home order and the re-imposing of the local health order that permits outdoor gatherings of up to 15 people from three different households, residents shouldn’t take it as a pass to begin widespread socializing.

“It just doesn’t work if every night people gather with a different group of folks to have small parties,” she said. “This is one of the reasons we had the surge. Too many people socializing.”

Ferrer noted a continuing downward trend in new COVID-19 case rates, reporting 6,917 new infections Wednesday. The new cases lifted the cumulative countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 1,091,712.

The number of people dying from the virus, however, remains high, with the county announcing another 307 deaths, The new deaths increased the overall death toll to 15,897.

Ferrer and county Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said the daily number of deaths is likely to remain elevated for at least two more weeks, due to the recent surge of COVID patients swarming intensive-care units.

The hospitalization numbers have been trending downward, with the state reporting a total of 6,026 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID as of Wednesday, including 1,542 people in ICUs. At the beginning of the month, the county was averaging more than 8,000 COVID patients. The county’s average ICU population of COVID patients has also fallen, from about 1,900 per day earlier this month to now about 1,600.

Ghaly noted that hospitals are now averaging about 500 new daily COVID patient admissions per day, down from more than 700 earlier this month, the number is still double the rate seen during the COVID surge last July.

The county’s COVID-19 transmission rate — reflecting the average number of people a COVID patient infects with the virus — also continues to decline, estimated Wednesday at 0.85, down from 0.94 last week.

Keeping that number below 1.0 is considered critical to slowing the spread of the virus. But while the numbers continue to trend in the right direction, Ghaly noted that cases could quickly surge again if residents become lax about infection control.

“Though things are finally starting to move in the right direction, an increase in the behaviors that facilitate transmission could lead to a renewed increase in the number of hospitalized patients within about three weeks time,” Ghaly said. “There’s always that lag between activity that might expose somebody to the virus, through to infection through to the point at which someone requires a hospital for care.”

On another positive note, Ferrer said if case rates continue to decline, the county could be able to reopen elementary schools for limited in-person instruction in a matter of weeks. She said for schools to reopen for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, the county needs to have an average new daily case rate of 25 per 100,000 residents. The county’s current rate is 48 per 100,000.

Note: City News Service contributed to this report.

Coronavirus

L.A. County Sees Increase In COVID-19 Cases Among Staff, Residents At Nursing Facilities

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Los Angeles County is now experiencing an increase in cases among staff and residents at skilled nursing facilities, public health officials said Tuesday.

The rise is in part due to the highly transmissible Delta variant and a small number of post-vaccination infections among those fully vaccinated, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Currently, 86% of residents and 85% of staff at skilled nursing facilities are fully vaccinated. For the week ending July 18, 33 people tested positive for COVID-19: six new cases among residents, and 27 new cases among staff.

 For the previous weeks, an average of 22 new cases were reported among staff and residents at skilled nursing facilities.

Masks have consistently been required in all healthcare settings, including skilled nursing facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Routine testing of staff and residents is also required at skilled nursing facilities, and there are stringent infection control directives, according to the department.

On Tuesday, Public Health confirmed 2,293 new cases of COVID-19. To date, the department has identified 1,307,970 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 24,704 deaths.

There are 1,138 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized and 22% of these people are in the ICU. This is an increase of 313 daily hospitalizations since last Tuesday.

“Residents at skilled nursing facilities are often medically fragile and throughout this pandemic have been at great risk for serious illness and death from COVID-19. Thankfully, because of their high COVID-19 vaccination rates and infection control measures at facilities, we are not seeing dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases among staff and residents at skilled nursing facilities, nor have we seen significant increases in deaths,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of public health in a statement. “In order to ensure a continued high level of protection during this surge, staff and residents not yet vaccinated should do so. And we ask everyone who plans to visit someone in a skilled nursing facility to mask up and be fully vaccinated to prevent transmission to very vulnerable residents.”

Anyone 12 and older living or working in L.A. County can get vaccinated against COVID-19. For more information, visit here

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California To Require State, Health Care Workers To Show Proof Of Vaccination Or Testing

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All California state employees, as well as workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings, must show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week, Governor Newsom announced Monday.

The new policy for state workers will take effect on Aug. 2 and testing will be phased in over the next few weeks. The new policy for health care workers and congregate facilities is set to take effect on Aug. 9, and health care facilities will have until Aug. 23 to come into full compliance. 

Unvaccinated workers will be subject to at least weekly COVID-19 testing and will be required to wear appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). This requirement also applies to high-risk congregate settings, including senior residential facilities, homeless shelters and jails. 

“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” said Newsom in a statement. “As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same.”

Despite California leading the nation in vaccinations, with more than 44 million doses administered and 75% of the eligible population has received at least one dose, the state is seeing increasing numbers of people who refused to get the vaccine being admitted to the ICU and dying.

“The Delta variant is up to 60% more infectious than the Alpha strain but many times more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain. If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, now is the time,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in a statement.

As of last week, California’s statewide case rate more than quadrupled from a low in May of 1.9 cases per 100,000 residents a day to at least 9.5 cases per 100,000.

The vast majority of new cases are among the unvaccinated, with 600% higher case rates among the unvaccinated than for those who are vaccinated, according to the state. 

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Los Angeles County COVID-19 Cases Increase 80% In One Week

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Los Angeles County continues to see a rapid rise in COVID-19 transmission countywide with cases doubling over the last 10 days as the Delta variant spreads.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 2,767 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday an 80% increase over last week, according to the department. 

On Friday, 3,058 additional cases were reported, marking the third day in a row with more than 2,500 cases reported in a day, according to Public Health.

The County’s daily average case rate, with a 7-day lag, is now 12.9 cases per 100,000 people, an increase from last week’s rate of 7.1 cases per 100,000.

There are 645 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized and 22% of these people are in the ICU. Last week, there were 406 people hospitalized with COVID-19 illness.

“Public Health has detailed the rise of the Delta variant among strains sequenced in the Los Angeles County area for weeks,” department officials said. “While emerging data affirms that fully vaccinated people are well protected from severe infections with Delta variants, people with only one vaccine are not as well-protected, and there is increasing evidence that a small number of fully vaccinated individuals can become infected and may be able to infect others.”

From July 11 to July 17, the number of sequenced Delta variants was 201, 84% of all sequences collected that week. 

This is consistent with the rise of Delta nationwide: earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that Delta strains accounted for 83% of circulating COVID-19. Given that about 4 million residents in L.A. County are not yet vaccinated, the risk of increased spread of this variant within L.A. County remains high, according to Public Health.

As of July 18, more than 10,845,531 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 6,013,569 were first doses and 4,831,962 were second doses.

88% of L.A. County seniors 65 and over, 70% of residents 16 and over, and 69% of residents 12 and over have received one dose of a vaccine including 39% of L.A. County teens between the ages of 12 and 17. 

Of the nearly 10.3 million L.A. County residents, including those who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, 52% are fully vaccinated and 59% have received at least one dose.

“As more people have gotten vaccinated, the proportion of total cases that are among those vaccinated has also increased,” public health officials said. “This is to be expected because as more people are vaccinated, the number of fully vaccinated people becoming infected will increase.”

 In June, fully vaccinated people represented 20% of all cases diagnosed among L.A. County residents, while unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people accounted for 80% of cases.

Public Health estimates if the 52% of County residents that are fully vaccinated were not vaccinated, the number of new cases would perhaps be double because everyone would instead have the same risk of infection as unvaccinated people do. While County numbers have been going up, they would be much higher if there weren’t as many people fully vaccinated.

In Los Angeles County, everyone 2 years of age and older must wear a mask in all indoor public places, regardless of their vaccination status. 

“While the County does not require masking at private gatherings where unvaccinated or immunocompromised people are present, universal masking in these scenarios, particularly indoors, is the best way to protect everyone,” department officials said.

To find a vaccination site in Los Angeles County, visit here.

Note: This story has been updated with new case data from the Department of Public Health.

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