Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — With the Delta variant of COVID-19 continuing to rage, Los Angeles County crossed the grim milestone of 25,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began, with the public health director lamenting that vaccinations makes virtually all COVID fatalities preventable.
“When you think that over 18 months we’ve lost 25,000 people, it’s staggering and deeply upsetting,” Barbara Ferrer said during an online briefing Aug. 19. “It [COVID-19] is one of the leading causes of death here in L.A. County. I think we lose more people … to heart disease and associated illnesses related to heart disease, but I think unfortunately COVID is going to be right up there as one of the leading causes of death in L.A. County for this past year, and that’s tragic.
“The message on that is almost nobody ought to be dying of COVID anymore, so let’s get people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” she said. “This does not need to be the leading cause of death.”
Ferrer noted that by comparison, the flu causes between 1,000 and 1,900 deaths per year in the county.
The county confirmed another 35 COVID-19 deaths Aug. 19, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 25,002. Another 3,239 infections were also reported, giving the county an overall total of 1,362,848.
Ferrer said she expects daily new case numbers to remain high in the coming weeks due to increased testing being required at many schools and businesses. She also noted that the county’s cumulative case total will take a sharp rise Aug. 20, when health officials add more than 10,000 new cases to the overall pandemic total — representing people who received a repeat positive test more than 90 days after their original infection.
She said such repeat infections had not originally been tallied as part of the total.
The number of COVID-positive patients in L.A. County hospitals actually dropped slightly, with state figures putting the number at 1,786. There were 414 people in intensive care.
Hospitalization numbers have been steadily rising for more than a month, but Ferrer noted that between April and mid-August, roughly 25% of the COVID-positive patients were actually hospitalized for a reason other than the coronavirus. Their infection was detected only during a routine admission screening.
While continuing to profess the effectiveness of vaccines, Ferrer noted that the percentages of fully vaccinated people being infected and hospitalized have been rising over the past three months.
She said that in April, vaccinated people represented only 5% of the overall number of cases in the county. In July, that number increased to 30%. Vaccinated people represented only 5% of hospitalized patients in April, but 13% in July.
Overall, however, the percentages of vaccinated people who test positive, are hospitalized or die from COVID remain low — all less than 1%. Of the nearly 5.15 million fully vaccinated residents as of Aug. 17, 27,331 have tested positive, for a rate of 0.53%. Only 742 were hospitalized, for a rate of 0.014%, and 68 have died, a rate of 0.0013%.
“With these high rates of community transmission, more fully vaccinated people are getting post vaccination infection, however, this very same information also makes it clear how much protection fully vaccinated people have,” Ferrer said. “Most of us that are fully vaccinated, we don’t get infected. And if we do get infected, we don’t end up hospitalized and they are very unlikely to tragically lose their life to COVID if fully vaccinated.”
The recent numbers figures were released days after federal health officials recommended that all vaccinated Americans get COVID-19 booster shots.
That amounts to a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — and “likely” an additional dose for people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
Those shots could begin the week of Sept. 20, according to a joint statement Aug. 18 from the Centers for Disease Control and the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services.
The county began offering third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines last weekend to people with compromised immune systems. Health officials urged people to consult their doctors to confirm their eligibility for the third shot, which should be administered at least 28 days following the second dose.
Federal officials said data “make very clear” that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination — which prompted their recommendation of booster shots for all.
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout,” the federal agencies said. “For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
They added: “We have developed a plan to begin offering these booster shots this fall subject to FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) conducting an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issuing booster dose recommendations.”
Continued spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 prompted county health officials to issue a new health order that will require all attendees at outdoor “mega-events” with 10,000 or more people to wear face masks. The rule, which took effect Aug. 19, will affect sporting events such as Dodgers, Rams and Chargers game, along with LAFC and Galaxy soccer matches.