With COVID-19 case numbers maintaining a steady decline, Los Angeles County health officials Monday urged continued protections for workers through strict adherence to infection-control measures.
The urging came on a day the county recognized the anniversary of labor leader Cesar Chavez's birthday, with most county offices shuttered for the day.
"As we celebrate today the legacy of Cesar Chavez and his commitment to social justice and the labor movement, let us honor all of the county's workforce, particularly our essential workers, by protecting them from COVID-19," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.
"Every time the virus is passed from one person to another, community transmission increases along with the possibility of proliferation of variants,'' she said. "Poor health outcomes and death from COVID-19 are (disproportionately) experienced by Black and Brown workers and residents. All requirements and protocols in the Health Officer Order must be followed to interrupt potential transmission. Let today serve as reminder how critical it is for employers to support their workers by following all safety measures, providing maximum protections, and allowing for eligible workers to get vaccinated."
Noting that case totals are typically low on Mondays due to weekend reporting lags, the county on Monday reported seven new COVID-19 deaths, lifting the countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 23,084.
The county also announced 378 new infections, while Long Beach health officials announced 57 new cases and Pasadena added three, raising the cumulative number since the pandemic began to 1,218,643.
According to state figures, there were 649 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19, with 175 people in intensive care. That's down slightly from Sunday, when 655 people were hospitalized.
County health officials have repeatedly warned residents against complacency in the face of falling infection and hospitalizations numbers. Although vaccination efforts are continuing and expanding this week to include everyone aged 50 and over, one about 10% of county residents have been fully vaccinated so far, and more infectious COVID variants are on the rise, threatening to infect more people.
Federal officials, including President Joe Biden, warned Monday against a relaxing of infection-control measures, pointing to rising case numbers in some countries and states. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the nation's trajectory of infections is mirroring that of European nations that are now experiencing surges in COVID cases.
County officials fear that upcoming spring break activities -- along with the Easter and Passover holidays -- could prompt gatherings that threaten to quickly spread the virus.
"While COVID-19 numbers have decreased in L.A. County, transmission remains widespread and is increasing in many other states and countries,'' the county Department of Public Health warned Sunday.
Vaccine eligibility will expand Thursday to all residents aged 50 and over, but with vaccine supplies still relatively limited, getting an appointment could prove difficult. The city of Los Angeles' appointment system through Carbon Health was accepting appointment slots for the 50-and-over group on Monday, but the state's MyTurn site was not.
Eligibility will expand to everyone aged 16 and up on April 15.
The county this week is actually set to receive its largely weekly allotment of vaccine to date -- 338,100 doses -- and tens of thousands more doses will be sent directly to other local vaccination providers, such as pharmacies and health care centers.
But when eligibility expands to those 50 and over on Thursday, it will add an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people to the pool of residents competing for limited doses. That's on top of the millions of people who are already eligible for the shots.
Meanwhile, the county on Tuesday will learn if it will be advancing to the less-restrictive orange tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The county's rate of new cases and testing positivity rate fell into the orange-tier range last week, and if the county maintains those numbers this week, it will meet the criteria to advance out of the red tier. Since the county must be in the red tier for at least three weeks before advancing to orange, the county would not be able to actually advance until at least Friday, and possibly not until early next week.
Advancing to the orange tier would allow the county to lift capacity restrictions at retail stores, increase capacity at restaurants, museums, aquariums, zoos and fitness centers and potentially reopen bars for outdoor service. Although state guidelines permit such changes, the county has the final say on which restrictions to loosen.