Los Angeles County reported 6,918 new cases of COVID-19 and 316 additional deaths Saturday, as health officials also confirmed the second local case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 first discovered in the United Kingdom, and four additional cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
The B.1.1.7 specimen, submitted by a clinical facility, was sequenced as part of routine surveillance by the county's Public Health Laboratory. The first confirmed case of B.1.1.7 was logged on January 16, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Officials believe the B.1.1.7 and other variants are already spreading in the county, and they are continuing to test samples. B.1.1.7 is considered more contagious, but not necessarily more deadly, than the original strain of COVID-19.
The four additional cases of MIS-C bring the total number in LA County to 66 children, including one child death. All 66 children with MIS-C in LA County were hospitalized and 44% of the children were treated in the ICU.
Of the 66, 32% were under the age of 5, 38% were between the ages of 5 and 11, and 30% were between the ages of 12 and 20.
Latino/Latinx children account for nearly 74% of the reported cases, the department said.
MIS-C is an inflammatory condition associated with COVID-19, and symptoms include fever that does not go away and inflamed body parts, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.
The county's COVID-19 hospitalization rates continues to decline, with 5,669 coronavirus patients hospitalized Saturday, down from 5,855 the day before, and 26% of those patients in the ICU.
Meanwhile, the county's large-scale COVID-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium was unexpectedly closed Saturday after protesters reportedly showed up at the entrance. Public safety officials were working to reopen the site in the afternoon as hundred of cars waited in line.
"Working with our public safety partners to ensure everyone with an appointment gets their vaccine today," Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore tweeted.
Health officials said Saturday that COVID-19 vaccination appointments for next week are available in Los Angeles County for those who qualify.
For county residents seeking their first dose, "appointments from February 1 -7 are now available at http://VaccinateLACounty.com,'' the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health tweeted. ``Residents will be able to book their first and second dose appointments at the same time.
Officials said email confirmations are being sent out for those seeking a second-dose appointment.
"If you have not received an email yet, it will be sent soon," the department tweeted. "We appreciate your patience."
People currently eligible to get vaccinated in the county are health care workers, long-term care facility residents and those aged 65 and over.
Allocations of COVID-19 vaccine continue to lag behind demand, with the county expecting to receive roughly 188,000 doses next week. Many of those, however, will be needed to administer second shots to people who have already received the first dose of the two-dose regimen.
As of the end of last week, the county had received a total of 853,650 doses. It received an estimated 143,900 doses this week, pushing the total to nearly 1 million.
Vaccination appointments can be booked online at vaccinatelacounty.com or by calling 833-530-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Appointments at county sites were largely filled through the weekend.
Friday's storm forced the closure of county's vaccination site at El Sereno Recreation Center. All Friday appointments were rescheduled for Tuesday, according to the Department of Public Health.
The county's chief science officer, Dr. Paul Simon, noted that the county opened about 25,000 vaccination appointment slots on Thursday, and they were filled within two hours. He sympathized with residents struggling to make appointments, expressing hope that the supply of vaccines will improve.
Simon said that most recent figures show a total of 719,138 doses of vaccine have been administered in the county, including nearly 595,000 first doses and more than 124,000 second doses of the two-dose regimen. While a large number, the total represents a fraction of the more than 2 million people currently eligible to get vaccinated in the county. Since each person requires two doses, that equates to more than 4 million doses.
Simon acknowledged concerns that have arisen in recent days regarding availability of the second doses, as residents struggle to make appointments. Simon said anyone who gets their first dose at a county or city operated site should immediately be given an appointment for a second dose at the same location. Those who did not will be contacted be email
Meanwhile, outdoor dining returned to the county Friday after a two-month shutdown, but with a new restriction forcing restaurants to turn off or remove all televisions from customer seating areas -- a clear effort to prevent gatherings of sports fans.
The county's revised Health Officer Order also reinstates previous restrictions on outdoor dining: requiring servers to wear masks and face shields, limiting restaurants to 50% of patio capacity, limiting tables to no more than six people from the same household and requiring tables to be at least eight feet apart.
But the order also states: "Televisions or any other screens that are used to broadcast programming must be removed from the area or turned off. This provision is effective until further notice."
The provision is directly aimed at preventing gatherings of sports fans, particularly with the Super Bowl approaching on Feb. 7.
"We really do need to be cautious as we move forward, given we have a major sporting event," county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said. "We've seen lots of people together shouting, yelling, screaming during the excitement of a game. We want to make sure that as we do these re-openings we can see the impact, and as we move forward, if things continue to get better we may be able to change some of the restrictions that are there.
"But right now we have to ease into these re-openings,'' he said. "We want to see these cases continue to come down, our hospitalizations continue to come down. ... But that depends on everybody doing what's right to prevent being infected with the virus. So at this point we are easing our way into this and want to see how our numbers continue to trend and we'll make changes as we see how we continue to do.''
Speaking directly about the upcoming Super Bowl, Davis added: "This should be a virtual get-together, just like many of you celebrated the holidays with just your immediate family present. ... Make this a virtual event...Play it safe and don't organize a party at home."
"Although some restrictions were just lifted in our county, we are still in a very dangerous period in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday. "We all want our businesses currently operating to remain open and more to reopen safely in the future. Our case rates must continue to come down. One way to do that is for everyone to follow all of the public health recommendations and directives all of the time. Because some sectors have re-opened, it doesn't mean that the risk for community transmission has gone away; it hasn't, and each of us needs to make very careful choices about what we do and how we do it. This virus is strong, and we are now concerned about variants and what these will mean in our region."
The new health order limits table seating at restaurant patios to six people, and "all people seated at a table should be members of the same household."
The order encourages, but does not mandate, seating to be done by advance reservation. It urges restaurants to ask customers "to call in advance to confirm outdoor seating/serving capacity, where possible.'' Restaurants also must collect contact information from customers in case there's a future need to reach out in contact-tracing efforts.
The order also lifts the previous requirement that non-essential retail businesses be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
On Monday, following the lifting of the state's regional stay-at-home order, the county immediately cleared personal-service businesses such as barber shops and nail salons to reopen, albeit with strict infection-control requirements.
Restaurants reopened for outdoor service earlier this week in Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.
Daily COVID-19 infection numbers have been trending downward over the past two weeks, following a surge that saw the county regularly reporting well over 10,000 cases.