COVID Hospitalizations in LA County Dip as Vaccination Efforts Accelerate

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County is ramping up vaccination efforts in its battle against the coronavirus, with plans to open five large-scale vaccine sites today, 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 new centers are located at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Cal State Northridge, the Pomona Fairplex, the L.A. County Office of Education in Downey and the Forum in Inglewood.

Officials also announced key progress in the vaccination program on Monday. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, nearly 99% of the skilled nursing facilities in the county have administered first doses of the vaccine to residents and staff. The five remaining nursing homes will be administering shots this week.

And late Monday, Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis issued an order making COVID-19 vaccines available to anyone 65 and older starting Thursday -- despite health officials' concerns about the supply of doses.

Solis' decision to make the shots available to people 65 and older is in line with guidance released last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom. But it flies in the face of advice from county health officials, who wanted to wait until vaccinations of front-line health care workers were completed before offering limited vaccine supplies to a wider array of people.

Further complicating the vaccination effort was an order from the state's epidemiologist late Sunday, warning providers to stop administering doses from a batch of 330,000 Moderna vaccines in response to allergic reactions suffered by a handful of people in San Diego.

Those 330,000 doses of Moderna vaccine no longer available represent 10% of all the vaccines received by the state thus far -- dealing a blow to counties like Los Angeles that have been requesting more vaccine allocations to keep up with demand.

So short is the supply that the operators of the vaccination clinic at Dodger Stadium warned over the weekend they could run out of doses as early as Wednesday.

The affected Moderna vaccines were distributed to 287 locations across California. It was unclear if any of those locations were in Los Angeles County.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 continues trending slowly downward. The county reported 88 more COVID-19 deaths and 9,927 new infections Monday, noting that the figures could be artificially low due to lags in reporting from the weekend and the Martin

Luther King Jr. holiday.

The new deaths, along with one reported by health officials in Pasadena, lifted the county's overall death toll to 13,937. Los Angeles County's new cases, along with 107 confirmed by Pasadena, raised the cumulative number of cases confirmed in the county since the pandemic began to 1,024,297.

According to the state, there were 7,322 people hospitalized due to COVID as of Monday, continuing a downward trend from the past week. Hospitalizations peaked at more than 8,000 in early January, putting pressure on hospitals across the county, forcing ambulances to wait hours to offload patients and prompting medical centers to care for patients in gift shops and cafeterias.

But while the population of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has been trending downward, intensive-care units remain packed with virus victims. According to the state, there were 1,728 COVID-19 patients in ICUs in the county, which has about 2,500 licensed ICU beds.

Health officials have said in recent weeks that about two-thirds of ICU patients in the county are being treated for COVID-19, leaving little room for people in need of ICU care for other reasons.

Authorities have warned that while new hospital admissions had appeared to level off, the numbers could again shoot upward as people who were infected over the Christmas and New Year's holidays begin developing symptoms and requiring medical care.

Exacerbating the problem is the recently discovered COVID-19 variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom but is now spreading in domestically. The variant does not make people sicker, but it is far more easily transmitted from person to person, meaning the county's already high transmission rate could jump even higher.

The new strain has been found in more than one-third of COVID-19 cases among patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and may be contributing to the acceleration of the recent surge of cases across Southern California, according to a study released Monday.

The strain, which the investigators designated as CAL.20C, is believed to be in part responsible for the dramatic increase in cases over the last two months. The Cedars-Sinai findings did not indicate whether the strain is more deadly than current forms of the coronavirus.

CAL.20C is distinct from the virus version identified in Britain known as B.1.1.7 that is spreading in the U.S. and believed to be highly transmissible.

In Southern California, B.1.1.7 has been found in scattered coronavirus cases in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino counties. In contrast, the CAL.20C strain was identified in 36.4% of cases in the Cedars-Sinai study.

CAL.20C includes a virus variant the California Department of Public Health reported Sunday based on data submitted by Cedars-Sinai and other investigators.

This variant, dubbed L452R, is one of five recurring mutations that constitute the CAL.20C strain, which is propagating across the country, starting in Los Angeles County.

“The recent surge in COVID-19 positive cases in Southern California coincides with the emergence of CAL.20C,'' said Dr. Eric Vail, assistant professor of pathology and director of molecular pathology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Cedars-Sinai.

With at least 10% of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization, higher case numbers will translate into higher hospitalization numbers, and ultimately, more deaths.

Increasing fatalities due to the virus prompted a grim move on Sunday by Southland air-quality regulators, who lifted the cap on the number of bodies local crematories could cremate. Crematoriums normally operate under a limit designed to reduce the impact of the cremations on air quality.

Los Angeles County crossed the 1 million mark in cumulative cases during the pandemic over the weekend. Although that milestone represents about one-tenth of the county's overall population, modeling released last week estimated that as many as one-third of residents have actually been infected at some point, with many of them never knowing it but still capable of spreading the virus to others.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday morning to discuss a variety of topics. The board was expected last week to discuss possible new health restrictions -- such as closing indoor malls and other non-essential retail businesses -- but took no immediate action. It was unclear if the topic would be discussed at Tuesday's meeting.

And the Department of Public Health will host a virtual town hall Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, how it was developed, where it will be distributed, and when it will be made available to the general public. The town hall will be streamed live on the department's Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages.

Photo: Getty Images

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