Los Angeles County's coronavirus numbers continue to fall, with officials reporting 423 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 additional fatalities Sunday.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus continued to decline, dropping from 792 Saturday to 750, with the number of those patients in intensive care declining from 216 to 191, according to state figures.
Sunday's numbers brought the county's totals to 1,214,178 cases and 22,797 deaths since the pandemic began. The lower number of deaths reported Sunday may reflect reporting delays over the weekend, according to health officials.
On Saturday, when 521 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said more than 70% of those cases were from people under the age of 50 years old, while 93% of Saturday's 56 reported deaths were over the age of 50.
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"Many younger people are out socializing with non-household members, raising concerns that asymptomatic young people are unknowingly helping to spread the virus to more vulnerable people," Public Health Directors Barbara Ferrer said. "Though we are making good progress in our vaccination efforts, we are entering a potentially perilous time if people let their guard down. It is important that we remain disciplined in our adherence to use of face masks, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and delaying any non-essential travel. This is particularly important with the recent movement of the county to the red tier and as restrictions get lifted."
On the vaccination front, officials said doses at county-run sites would be limited to second doses this week due to supply shortages.
The county crossed the milestone of administering 3 million doses last week, and its science officer said planning is under way for an anticipated dramatic increase in vaccine supply in hopes of eventually doling out 1 million doses per week.
The county currently has the capability of administering about 630,000 doses per week, but due to limited supply, only about 300,000 to 350,000 doses are actually being administered per week. Next week, the county will only be receiving about 280,000 doses, although that number will be augmented by supplies sent directly to some providers, such as the federally operated site at Cal State Los Angeles.
Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county health department, said Friday that given the progress already being made in vaccinations, if supplies dramatically increase by late April or early May -- as predicted by President Joe Biden -- the county could move rather quickly through the rest of the population.
"To ensure we are prepared for this increase, we have begun planning with our vaccine provider network to expand countywide vaccination capacity to more than 1 million doses per week,'' Simon said. ``Recently, President Biden made the announcement of opening up vaccinations to everyone over the age of 16 by May 1. We look forward (to working) with the state to meet this goal."
But he also warned that despite the progress in vaccinations, "we are entering a perilous time.''
"In Europe and some regions of the U.S. there has been a recent resurgence in cases and hospitalizations,'' he said. "In addition, spread of virus variants remains a major concern. For this reason, it is imperative that we remain disciplined in our adherence to the use of face masks, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings and delaying any non-essential travel."
According to Simon, as of Wednesday, 3,234,989 total doses of the vaccine were administered in the county, although he conceded that due to reporting delays the number is likely much higher.
Of those doses, 2,177,195 were first doses -- including 25,170 of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- and 1,057,794 were second doses. That means roughly 1,080,000 people who live or work in the county have been fully vaccinated.
Simon said if vaccinations continue on the current pace, by the time supplies increase in late April or early May, the county will be deep into the inoculation effort. If the county begins receiving up to 1 million doses per week -- with a good amount of it the one-dose Johnson & Johnson medication -- "we could then work through the general adult population pretty quickly, within a month or two."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday that local officials should have enough vaccine supply from the federal government to better target hard-hit areas in another two to three weeks.
"I look forward to when the federal regulations release our handcuffs and allow us to target anybody in a hot spot. I think that is probably two or three weeks away. And when we can do that, we can make sure even as our numbers have plummeted here, some of our lowest hospitalizations in a year, that'll allow us, if there is anything that comes up quickly, go into the geography of a neighborhood, knock it down before it spreads throughout a city,'' Garcetti told CBS' "Face the Nation."
On Friday, the county adjusted its coronavirus reopening guidelines to allow breweries, distilleries and wineries to reopen for indoor service if food is provided. The county had previously permitted outdoor service with no food provided.
Under the new guidance, "Wineries, Breweries and Craft Distilleries ... may operate indoors at 25% of maximum indoor capacity, only if the establishment sells alcohol in the same transaction as a bona fide meal,'' according to the county health department.
Transplants Brewing in Palmdale had sued the county in 2020, claiming its shutdown orders discriminated against the brewery and similar businesses.
"It's unclear why the county continues to discriminate against breweries and wineries, but it finally came to its senses and revised the guidelines allowing Transplants and other independent businesses to begin getting back to business,'' attorney Khail Parris said. "These establishments have been hit the hardest because they rely on regular customers to make a profit, and between the pandemic and the completely inconsistent guidelines provided by the county of Los Angeles, they were barely holding on."
The move came at the end of a week that saw many local business reopening, with limits placed on attendance, as the county moved into the red tier of the state's reopening framework.
Meanwhile, California officials said Saturday that they updated K-12 school guidance to align with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated guidance Friday, indicating that physical distancing among students in classrooms could be reduced from the standard six feet down to three.
Simon said that guidance will likely be incorporated into the county's guidelines for schools, although health officials have not yet had a chance to discuss the issue. He stressed, however, that the three-foot guidance applies only to schools.
"It's specifically in the classroom," he said. "So what I don't want folks to do is say, `Well, gee, three feet is fine virtually anywhere.' That's definitely not the case. It was very specific in their guidelines, three feet in the classroom -- elementary, middle and high school classrooms -- but making sure everybody is wearing face masks all the time and that the classes are cohorting."