Officials urged residents to adhere to Los Angeles County’s “Safer at Home” orders a day after public health officials confirmed that the swifter spreading B.1.1.7 variant of coronavirus was present in the county.
Health officials reported 11,366 new cases of COVID-19 and 108 additional deaths on Sunday, Jan. 17, bringing the county’s totals to 1,014,662 cases and 13,848 fatalities. County health officials said, however, that the number of new cases reported Sunday reflects an undercount because of a lag from weekend reporting.
Although the 1 million figure represents about one-tenth of the overall population, modeling released by the county this week estimated that as many as one-third of residents have actually been infected at some point, most likely without ever knowing it.
The plateau in the number of hospitalizations stretched into another day. The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals dropped from 7,597 Saturday to 7,498, with 23% in the ICU. After peaking at just over 8,000, hospitalizations have been inching downward in recent days. The county has a total of about 2,500 licensed ICU beds.
On Saturday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed the first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the United Kingdom, in an individual who recently spent time in Los Angeles County. The individual is a male who traveled to Oregon, where he is currently isolating.
The variant was confirmed by Quest Laboratories in Washington state.
Although it is the first confirmed case of the variant in Los Angeles County, public health officials here believe that the new, more contagious strain is already spreading in the community, and are continuing to test samples.
“The reality is that the risk of contracting COVID-19 has increased with the presence of B.1.1.7 here in our community.” said Supervisor Hilda Solis in a statement. “This more contagious variant makes it easier for COVID-19 to spread – any activity outside of one’s household carries more risk of exposure now than ever before.”
“The presence of the U.K. variant in Los Angeles County is troubling, as our health care system is already severely strained,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Our community is bearing the brunt of the winter surge, experiencing huge numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, five-times what we experienced over the summer. This more contagious variant makes it easier for infections to spread at worksites, at stores, and in our homes.”
Ferrer added: “If you are required to work outside your home, make sure that your workplace adheres to all the mandatory safety directives; there should be no crowding anywhere, protective gear and face coverings provided as required, and infection control measures fully implemented. For those who can, this is the time to stay away from all non-household members, and, when you must be around others, to always keep your distance and wear a face covering. Wash your hands every hour and wipe down frequently touched surfaces multiple times a day. We need to use the tools at hand to keep each other from becoming infected.”
The new strain does not make people sicker, but it is transmitted much more easily, meaning it can rapidly spread through the population.
Health officials have warned that hospital numbers could significantly rise again due to people who were infected over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The county has continued to see elevated daily new case numbers, which always translate to more people being hospitalized.
The county’s daily report did not include the latest numbers from Pasadena and Long Beach, cities that operate their own health departments. Pasadena reported 91 new cases Saturday, increasing its total to 9,232; the city’s death toll remained 191. Long Beach does not update its totals on the weekend, but as of Friday, the city had posted 42,888 confirmed cases and 520 total deaths.
Helping to battled the enduring pandemic, an emergency field hospital opened over the weekend in Lancaster to help relieve the burden at Antelope Valley Hospital, which has been overrun with the surge in countywide coronavirus patients.
The 54-bed specialized respiratory care unit is operated by Samaritan’s Purse, an international, Christian-based relief organization that recently opened a similar respiratory care unit in North Carolina. It includes a team of more than 60 people from across the country, including 40 medical professionals.
Meanwhile, the county is working to ramp up vaccination efforts, with plans to open five large-scale vaccine sites on Tuesday, including at Inglewood’s Forum, Pomona’s Fairplex, Cal State Northridge, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and the county Office of Education in Downey. Those will be in addition to the large site opened by the city at Dodger Stadium on Friday, and 75 smaller sites the county is already operating.
“The large-scale vaccination sites we’re opening … are going to help us get there by massively increasing our capacity to vaccinate people quickly and efficiently,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said Sunday, on Twitter.
The major question now is the availability of vaccines.
ABC7 reported Sunday that the Dodger Stadium site could run out of the vaccines after Wednesday, citing Core Response, the global response group in charge of the vaccinations at the stadium site.
Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health, said that as of Thursday, the county had administered more than 279,000 total doses of vaccine to health care workers and staff and residents of skilled nursing and long-term care facilities. He said the county has administered 44% of the vaccines it has received for use as first doses in the two-dose regimen, along with 30% of those earmarked for use as second doses.
Children are the next frontier for COVID vaccine clinical trials
First case of COVID-19 UK variant confirmed in Los Angeles County
COVID-19 delays debuts of Ducks prospects Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale
Orange County Congressman Lou Correa says he has COVID-19
West Covina contracts with Care Ambulance, expands services
“The remaining doses have either been distributed to our partner vaccination providers or have been allocated for use over the next several weeks,” Simon said.
Simon said he sympathized with people frustrated at the slow pace of getting the vaccines administered — particularly among people aged 65 and older, who are already receiving vaccines in other jurisdictions that are deeper into the distribution process. Los Angeles County does not anticipate vaccinating those people until at least February, since it is expected to take until then to finish vaccinating health care workers.
“We too want to expand vaccinations as quickly as possible to those 65 and older,” Simon said. “The major barrier at this time is the lack of adequate supply of vaccine. We are very hopeful that additional vaccine will arrive soon so we can begin vaccinating seniors in the next several weeks. We recognize seniors and others are understandably anxious and in many cases frustrated about the delay in receiving vaccine. Please know that we are committed to expanding access to the vaccine as quickly as possible.”
City News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.