LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County health officials have reiterated they will fully align with the state's newly announced guidelines for mask-wearing when the bulk of COVID-19 restrictions are lifted next week.
And with the lifting of restrictions just days away, local authorities again pushed the availability of financial and entertainment incentives for people who get vaccinated -- but the clock is ticking.
Through Thursday, anyone who gets a first-dose vaccine at a Los Angeles county- or city-run vaccination site, or at a St. John's Well Child and Family Center site, will be entered for a chance to win season tickets to the Dodgers or Los Angeles Football Club. The contest is open to anyone receiving a first dose, or people receiving a second dose who bring another person with them to be vaccinated.
Long Beach officials, meanwhile, will offer its residents a chance to win either a two-night hotel stay, a $50 cash card or a $50 gift card for Fandango, Target or Walmart if they get vaccinated by Saturday. That contest is open to anyone who comes in for their first dose of vaccine. Long Beach officials said that since they began offering incentives last month, vaccine appointments have doubled.
On Friday, the state will hold the second and final drawing to award $50,000 cash prizes to another 15 vaccinated California residents. The first 15 winners were chosen last Friday.
On Tuesday -- the day the state will lift the majority of its COVID-19 restrictions -- the names of 10 vaccinated California residents will be chosen to win $1.5 million each.
The push for people to get vaccinated has intensified as Tuesday's economic-reopening date nears. According to Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, 65% of California residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 53% are fully vaccinated. Ghaly said the rate of people receiving at least one dose is likely higher, with federal health authorities putting the estimate at more than 70%.
Ghaly on Wednesday unveiled the state's long-awaiting mask-wearing guidelines that will take effect Tuesday in conjunction with the economic reopening. And Los Angeles County health officials -- who are always authorized to enact stricter measures than the state -- said they would align fully with the California masking guidelines.
The guidelines in general will allow fully vaccinated people to shed their masks in most situations, except while on public transit or in transportation hubs such as airports or train stations; while indoors at K-12 schools, child-care facilities or other youth settings; at health-care and long-term care facilities; at correctional facilities; and at homeless and emergency shelters.
Unvaccinated people will still be required to wear masks at indoor public settings and businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and family entertainment centers. Some businesses and event venues will retain the option of requiring all customers and patrons to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
“We appreciate the hard work of everyone to keep each other safe and healthy,'' county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Your efforts make it possible for us to look forward to a full re-opening next week. With the retiring of most distancing and capacity restrictions, businesses will be able to return to their customary activities.
“The remaining public health safety measures of appropriate masking (are) critically important to protect those who are unvaccinated,'' she said. “We urge everyone who is unvaccinated to continue to wear their mask while at indoor public settings and businesses and when at outdoor mega events. And we ask all who are fully vaccinated to wear a face covering as required when using public transit, indoors at schools, camps and childcare, at healthcare settings and high risk congregate housing facilities.''
For residents or businesses owners who have questions about the economic reopening, the county Department of Public Health will hold a virtual town hall at 6 p.m. Thursday. The event will stream on the agency's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels. Information is available at www.tinyurl.com/AskReopeningTownHall.
Ferrer on Tuesday presented the Board of Supervisors with COVID-19 statistics from five states that eased their mask-wearing rules when the CDC announced its new guidance last month. All five of those states -- Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, New York and Washington -- have vaccination rates above 57%, roughly the same as Los Angeles County, and all have continued to see declining case rates, Ferrer said.
The county's vaccination efforts are shifting more toward mobile and community sites, rather than large-scale vaccine locations. The county will have 237 mobile vaccination teams fanned across the area this week, the most in a single week to date.
The county on Monday began phasing out its large-scale vaccination sites. The large site at Cal State Northridge closed at the end of the day, with operations shifting to the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino.
The other large-scale sites run by the county -- at the Forum in Inglewood, the Pomona Fairplex and the county Office of Education in Downey -- will close at the end of the day Sunday. Beginning next Tuesday, smaller sites will be opened at:
-- Ted Watkins Memorial Park, 1335 E. 103rd St., Los Angeles;
-- Commerce Senior Citizens Center, 2555 Commerce Way; and
-- Norwalk Arts & Sports Complex, 13000 Clarkdale Ave.
Those three sites will operate from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
According to statistics released Monday, 65% of the county's population age 16 and over have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 54% -- or roughly 4.5 million people -- are fully vaccinated.
Four more COVID-19 deaths were reported by the county on Wednesday, lifting the county's overall death toll to 24,408.
Another 202 new cases were also confirmed, raising the cumulative number from throughout the pandemic to 1,245,588.
According to state figures, there were 244 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the county as of Wednesday, up from 243 on Tuesday, with 45 people in intensive care, up from 40 a day earlier.
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