Los Angeles Will Not Lift Covid Masking Or Vaccination Restrictions By End Of Year, Says Top Health Official

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“We will not reach the 80% threshold by the beginning of the year,” said Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer today about the county’s vaccination progress. She then noted, “This is one of the 4 measures we must meet to lift restrictions.” Translation: L.A.’s indoor public masking and vaccination requirements will be in place until at least the start of 2022.

Ferrer’s appraisal comes just one day after Governor Gavin Newsom extended California’s Covid-related state of emergency through March 2022, by which time it will have been in effect over two years. It also comes one day after the AMPTP and Hollywood’s unions extended the agreement covering Covid-19 safety protocols through January 15, 2022. And it comes as case numbers in Los Angeles have bounced up and down, but generally trended up.

Noting year-over-year declines in daily case numbers (from 2,152 to 1,344) vs and hospitalizations (from 903 to 633), the public health director said the numbers remain too high, and the daily report of virus-related deaths (22 vs. 25) remains almost identical to last year.

“The similar number for deaths is a reminder of the destructive power of this virus, and the [still] relatively high numbers of cases and hospitalizations are a reflection of the dominance of the more infectious Delta variant,” Ferrer said during a media briefing.

What’s more, while 95% of L.A. County can now get vaccinated, the percentage of fully vaccinated residents is just 63%. While there has been a bump in both booster shots and first doses (the latter likely due to recent approval for kids ages 5-11), the number of second doses remains fairly static. That means the new number of people becoming fully vaccinated weekly as as well.It stands at 44,000/wk, according to LACPH numbers announced today.

Ferrer said today that 80% of the eligible population needs to be vaccinated for L.A. County to clear one of four hurdles (there are actually five listed in the health officer order) set forth for lifting the current mandates for masks and vaccine verification in indoor public spaces.

Based on current modeling, Ferrer said the county would need to be fully inoculating 70,000 residents a week to clear the vaccination threshold set forth in the county health officer’s order by January 1. And that estimate is based on a smaller pool of residents over 12 years old, not the larger pool of residents ages five and up, which is now eligible.

Ferrer also did not indicate what the numerical thresholds are for satisfying the remaining four measures outlined in the health officer order. Without clear thresholds, it’s hard to know how far Angelenos are way from getting restrictions lifted.

The considerations for lifting masking and vaccination-verification restrictions in the current L.A. County health officer order include, “but are not limited to,” the following:

1.) The number of hospitalizations, new cases and deaths among in underserved communities

2.) The case rate

3.) Test positivity rate

4.) The percentage of county residents vaccinated and the availability of doses

5.) The number of fully-vaccinated people who get sick, are hospitalized or die from Covid

The order says County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis “will continue monitoring epidemiological data and assess the impact of lifting restrictions and fully re-opening sectors.

The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus remains low, at 0.98%. It was over 1% as recently as last week and 5.6% at this time last year.

The county’s cumulative seven-day case rate, as estimated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has risen to 98 cases per 100,000 residents, according to Ferrer. That number was in the mid-70s two weeks ago.

At 98 cases per 100,000 residents, the county is on the verge of being moved out of the CDC’s “substantial” transmission category to the “widespread” category, which also puts it further from lifting Covid-related restrictions.

L.A. County’s mask order, which went into effect on July 18 of this year, “requires face masks to be worn by all persons, regardless of vaccination status while in all indoor public settings and businesses.”

The vaccination mandate requires that most every indoor public space in Los Angeles — including movie theaters, concert venues, indoor restaurants, gyms, bars, large outdoor events and some city buildings — requires proof of full vaccination.

Both mandates are to be verified by the venues, with warnings and then escalating penalties for not doing so.

City News Service contributed to this post.

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