LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Pointing to a spate of health order violations at businesses over the Super Bowl and Presidents Day weekends, Los Angeles County health officials said Thursday they remain concerned that another spike in COVID-19 cases could be on the horizon, despite recent downward trends in case numbers and hospitalizations.
According to the county Department of Public Health, inspectors found a series of violations at restaurants over the past two weekends, including some that were offering indoor dining, some that were overcrowded with tables closer than eight feet, and some that had televisions on despite a requirement that they be turned off or removed from customer seating areas.
"As everyone knows who is sick with COVID-19 or worrying about a loved one in the hospital infected with the virus, we are not out of the woods yet," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "With almost 3,000 people testing positive still, community transmission remains high. It is so important residents and businesses continue to follow the guidance and directives in the Health Officer Order so that our recovery journey continues as we slow the spread of the virus.
"Each day more and more people are vaccinated and if we diligently adhere to the public health safety measures while increasing vaccinations, we can get to the end of this pandemic and save many more lives," she said.
The county reported another 153 deaths on Thursday, while Long Beach announced 10 fatalities, and Pasadena added 1, raising the overall death toll to 19,525.
Another 2,873 cases were confirmed by the county, while Long Beach reported 83, and Pasadena 22, lifting the cumulative number from throughout the pandemic to 1,174,445.
Hospital patient numbers continued to decline, with state figures showing a total of 2,640 people hospitalized in the county as of Thursday, with 808 people in intensive care. In early January, there were more than 8,000 people hospitalized in the county.
County officials said their COVID-19 vaccination centers will remain open in the coming days, having escaped any delays in vaccine shipments due to bad weather across the country. Weather delays will force the closure on Friday of Los Angeles city-operated vaccination sites, including the large-scale site at Dodger Stadium.
While county sites will remain open, they will be administering primarily second doses only to people who already received their first shot and need to receive their second.
Limited vaccine supplies have been a persistent issue, and health officials said the situation is likely to worsen in March, when millions more people become eligible to receive the shots.
Health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and people aged 65 and older are currently eligible to receive the shots, but getting appointments has been difficult due to tight supplies of vaccine.
The situation will dramatically worsen starting March 1, when the county will open eligibility to an array of essential workers — education/child care workers, including teachers and school staff; food and agricultural workers; and emergency services/law enforcement personnel. Ferrer said those groups include about 1.8 million people in the county.
The state has also directed providers to make shots available beginning March 15 to anyone aged 16 and older with a qualifying underlying health condition that puts them at significant risk of severe illness or death from COVID.
"We are going to have a difficult month, probably, in March," Ferrer said. "But I really do think the situation will change in April. So yes, very big constraints right now with vaccine supply."
She pointed to a variety of factors for optimism about improved vaccine supply as early as April, crediting President Joe Biden with accelerating the pace of vaccine purchases and noting that vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna have said they "have been able to cut their production times down, which just means they'll have more doses out quicker." And a third manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, could have federal approval by the end of the month to distribute its single-dose vaccine.
"So I think it is safe to say, barring some unforeseen calamity, we will have much more vaccine available by April," Ferrer said.
But in the meantime, supply will remain low, and Ferrer said the current county allocation "does not come close to allowing us to achieve herd immunity this spring," meaning continued health restrictions.
"With the reality that we have more infectious variants circulating in the state and our county ... it's never been more important for each of us to keep distance and wear a mask whenever we're out of our homes and around people we don't live with," she said.
Ferrer said Wednesday another four cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom have been found in Los Angeles County, raising the local total to 12. The variant is not considered more dangerous, but it is more easily spread from person to person. Ferrer said there are likely far more cases of the variant present in the county, but they haven't been detected due to the limited amount of gene sequencing that's needed to detect them.