L.A. County COVID-19 deaths top 25,000 as Delta spreads - Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles County reported 35 additional COVID-19 deaths Thursday, pushing the region past 25,000 total fatalities over the course of the pandemic, officials said.
The single-day death toll is among the higher ones in recent weeks and represents the devastating domino effect of the coronavirus, with increases in new infections triggering rises in hospitalizations and, eventually, fatalities.
While some health officials and experts have expressed optimism that the latest wave may not lead to the same sort of harrowing counts seen over the fall and winter, the new numbers are further evidence that some of those infected with the coronavirus will pay the pandemic’s ultimate price.
“The virus continues to cause debilitating and dangerous illness, and the losses we suffer now are particularly sad because almost all of them are preventable with an extremely safe and widely available vaccine,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a briefing.
Despite surpassing another morbid milestone, there are some signs the latest coronavirus surge may be starting to level out in L.A. County. However, officials stress it’s still too soon to say whether that trend will continue and, given the lagging nature of hospitalizations and deaths, the surge’s full effects won’t become clear for a few weeks.
Even if cases are starting to plateau a bit, Ferrer emphasized that “leveling is just not good enough. We have to get our numbers down, and that’s going to take some time.”
“Right now, even if we are seeing another leveling around our cases, we are still in a place where we have a ton of community transmission,” she said.
Looking back two months ago shows how dramatically the COVID-19 landscape has changed in the nation’s most populous county.
An average of 19 Angelenos have died from COVID-19 per day over the last week, according to data compiled by The Times. That’s 10 times the daily death count that was recorded the week ending June 15, when the county — along with the rest of the state — lifted virtually all coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and other public spaces.
As of mid-June, L.A. County was recording 173 new cases per day, on average. By comparison, over the last week, the county has reported an average of 3,478 new daily coronavirus cases, Times data show.
However, while cases remain on an upward trajectory, the rate of rise appears to be flattening. The latest rolling case average is up only about 2% from a week ago.
L.A. County has also seen a stark increase in hospitalizations in recent weeks — though, as with cases, that surge appears to be slowing.
Countywide, 1,786 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized Wednesday, state data show. That’s a decrease of four patients from Tuesday.
Over the last seven days, COVID-19 hospitalizations in L.A. County rose by 9%, an improvement over the previous week’s increase of 20%.
There are two primary strategies in turning the tide on the latest pandemic wave, officials and experts say.
The first is a familiar refrain: Vaccinate as many people as possible.
While it is true that even fully vaccinated people can become infected and fall ill with COVID-19 — a possibility only heightened by the highly infectious Delta variant — officials maintain that vaccinated residents still enjoy a much higher degree of protection than those who have yet to roll up their sleeves.
In L.A. County, unvaccinated people across all age groups are three to four times more likely to become infected than vaccinated residents, according to figures Ferrer presented Thursday.
Unvaccinated adults ages 18 to 49 are also 25 times more likely to be hospitalized than their vaccinated counterparts. Among those 50 and older, unvaccinated residents are nearly 12 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who have gotten their shots.
“The vaccines really did not ever promise us that they would prevent there from being transmission, so that’s been a huge, huge bonus,” Ferrer said. “The promise was that they would keep most of us from getting seriously ill and dying, and they’re still doing that.”
To date, more than 64% of L.A. County residents have gotten at least one dose, and 56% are fully vaccinated, according to Times data.
The second plan of action involves adopting safety measures during times of and in areas with elevated coronavirus transmission.
This week, for instance, L.A. County health officials announced that anyone attending large outdoor events — such as concerts, festivals and sports games — would need to wear face coverings regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.
“The name of the game right now is to do everything we can that causes as little disruption as possible to get the numbers down,” Ferrer said.
L.A. County was also ahead of the curve on universal indoor masking, ordering in mid-July that all residents must wear face coverings indoors in public places.
Public health officials have long warned that large indoor events present a particular risk of coronavirus transmission.
In light of that, California also announced a tightening of COVID-19 rules this week. Under the updated guidance that goes into effect Sept. 20, organizers of indoor events where at least 1,000 people are present will have to verify that all attendees have been either vaccinated for COVID-19 or tested negative in the last 72 hours. The regulations previously applied to crowds of at least 5,000.
State officials also announced that self-attestation is no longer an option. Attendees will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test.
“The Delta variant has proven to be highly transmissible, making it easier to spread in large crowds where people are near each other for long periods of time,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and the state’s public health officer, said in a statement Wednesday. “By requiring individuals to be vaccinated, or test negative for COVID-19 at large events, we are decreasing the risk of infection, hospitalization and death.”