As Omicron Variant Looms, County Urges Vaccinations Against COVID-19

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Again claiming the numbers are proof of COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness, Los Angeles County health officials reported in its latest data a sharp decline in the number of virus infections among residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities, where inoculations and booster shots have been widely administered.

According to the county Department of Public Health, there were 92 new COVID cases among residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities the week of Oct. 22, but that number fell to 34 for the week ending Nov. 14. County officials said the 63% decline occurred during a time when cases countywide fell just 6%.

An estimated 96% of nursing facility staff and 90% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the county, and 98% of the facilities are administering booster doses.

``Over the course of our month-long drive to roll out boosters in skilled nursing facilities, cases and hospitalizations dropped among the residents of these facilities far more dramatically than they did among the population at large,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. ``Clearly boosters, along with very high vaccination coverage with two doses among staff and residents, make a difference by enhancing protection.

``We encourage all adults 18 and over eligible for booster doses to go ahead and get that booster dose as an important way to protect from getting infected and spreading the virus. Since transmission remains substantial across the county, this additional boost makes a difference.''

Health officials also urged vaccinations and booster shots for residents to ward off the possible threat of the Omicron variant, a newly labeled variant of concern that some experts fear could lead to another possible surge in cases. In the wake of Omicron, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday stepped up its recommendation for everyone aged 18 and over to get a booster shot. The CDC had earlier recommended the shots for those aged 50 and up, and only suggested it for younger adults.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health addressed the new variant on Saturday.

``Although more studies are needed to determine whether the Omicron variant is more contagious, more deadly or resistant to vaccine and treatments than other COVID-19 strains, as with any variant of concern that is found in other countries, there are important steps we all need to take to protect ourselves from COVID-19 and from emerging variants of concern,'' according to a department statement.

Officials urged anyone at least 5 years old who has not been vaccinated to do so, and those who had their last shot six months ago to get a booster shot. ``The vaccines are effective against the Delta variant and earlier strains of the virus, which allows us to remain hopeful that the approved vaccines will also provide some protection against Omicron,'' the statement said.

Officials also reminded people to wear a mask when indoors or at large outdoor mega-events regardless of vaccination status.

The county on Monday reported another 10 COVID deaths, raising the virus-related death toll to 27,138.

Another 794 new cases were also reported, giving the county a cumulative pandemic total of 1,526,272.

The numbers of cases and deaths tend to be lower on Mondays due to delays in reporting from the weekend.

According to state figures, there were 569 COVID-19-positive patients in county hospitals as of Monday, up slightly from 568 on Sunday. The number of those patients in intensive care was 159, up from 157 a day earlier.

The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus in the county was 2.45%, up from last week's daily rate of about 1%. County health officials attributed the increase to the significant drop in overall testing due to schools being closed for the holidays. Many schools mandate weekly COVID testing for students and staff.

According to most recent figures, 82% of county residents 12 and over had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, and 73% were fully vaccinated. Of the county's overall population of 10.3 million people, 71% received at least one dose, and 63% were fully vaccinated.

Black residents continued to have the lowest vaccination rates, at 54%, followed by Latina/o residents at 59%, whites at 72% and Asians at 80%.

Of the roughly 5.99 million residents who were fully vaccinated as of Nov. 16, 75,249 have subsequently tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 1.26%, Ferrer said. Of the vaccinated population, 2,528 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.042%, and 422 have died, a rate of 0.007%.

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