Los Angeles County has dramatically reduced the awful surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths that struck late last year, Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez said at a Feb. 11 briefing for ethnic media hosted by the Los Angeles County COVID-19 Joint Information Center.
“Cases are falling at a very encouraging rate,” she said. She’s the county Department of Health’s director of integrative medicine at the Historic General Hospital Wellness Center. In early February, new cases were down to 4,500 a day from 15,000 a month earlier. But it’s still far too early to declare victory over the pandemic.
For one thing, 4,500 per day is three times as many as were being diagnosed in September. And health officials fear there could be another surge within months if people let their guards down.
Gonzalez was joined in the teleconference by county Department of Health Services Drs. Karen Kim and Raymond Perry, who are, respectively, directors of LA County DPH’s Primary Care Clinical Quality and of the South Los Angeles Hubert Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center.
Hospitalizations are down by 42%, Gonzalez said, at 4,608 daily as of Feb. 5 – still a far cry from the 760 per day of early November.
Deaths went from 13 daily in early November to 220 in January and have now dropped by 45%, but even still, there are “more than 200 people passing away on far too many days,” Gonzalez said.
“The only way for us to continue to slow transmission is to maintain safety precautions of social distancing, mask-wearing, hand washing and avoiding crowds – even after getting a vaccine.”
It’s important to be careful even after getting your second dose of vaccine, she said, because it can take a couple of weeks for it to take effect. And although it’s been found to be 95% effective in fighting COVID-19, that leaves 5% — one person in 20 – who could get the vaccine but still be vulnerable.
So far, Gonzalez said, 1.2 million doses have been administered in L.A. County, almost a quarter-million of those second doses. The county is organizing mobile teams to bring the vaccine to seniors in housing developments or senior centers in Los Angeles’ hardest-hit communities, and teams of community health workers are going block-by-block to spread the word on how to get vaccinated and speak out against virus-related false information, myths and scams.
Throughout, she said, VaccinateLACounty.com and VacunateLosAngeles.com will remain viable portals for updated information about the pandemic and vaccines and provide links to appointment registration.
“Watch out for scams,” she said. To get a vaccine, “you do not need citizenship or legal residency, you just need to prove you live in the county. For that, you can use a utility bill, vehicle or school registration, rent receipt, employment documentation, tax, insurance or court documents. You will not be asked for a birth certificate, and you will still be vaccinated even if you do not provide your immigration status.”
The Department of Public Health is NOT sharing people’s information with the INS or any organization related to immigration. The registration system is not linked, and medical information is confidential by law.
There’s no way to cut ahead in line for a vaccination, and although some “miracle cures” might offer some relief from COVID symptoms, the two vaccines approved so far are all we have that works against the virus itself. Ignore anyone telling you different, she said.
Dr. Kim described how the Department of Health Services, following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control (federal) and both the state and county, since Jan. 21 has administered first doses to 12,600 of its half-a-million patients across the county, and, starting Dec. 18, 18,500 of its health-care staff, along with 16,000 second doses.
Vaccination clients to date, she said, have been 60% Latino, 10% Black, 10% Asian, and 15% mixed or “other.”
The vaccine is available at no cost, Kim said, and transportation to an appointment when needed, too. That can be arranged while making the appointment, with or without insurance, she said.
She and other panelists emphasized that the biggest challenge in getting people vaccinated is simply procuring adequate supplies.
Dr. Perry, whose Hubert Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center in South Los Angeles serves 45,000 primarily African American and Latino patients, said, “It’s been so great to see the excitement of so many people who feel they finally have the opportunity to protect themselves and help their communities.”
He recalled one senior client dancing in the waiting room after getting his vaccine and a couple who got theirs while celebrating their 50th anniversary and eagerly looking forward to another 50 together.
He acknowledged that the communities he serves have understandable reasons for being hesitant or skeptical of vaccination programs. But “this vaccination is not an experiment,” he said. “We know it’s safe. We want everyone to get one. COVID-19 is still killing people in our community every day.”
“COVID poses more immediate risk to all us in the community,” he said. Given the risks the pandemic still poses, he said, “The risk-benefit rationale” mandates everyone getting the vaccine as soon as they can.
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