Los Angeles County health officials said Wednesday they plan to make targeted efforts in coming weeks to get COVID-19 vaccinations to particularly vulnerable residents, but while the vaccine program is progressing, there are continued issues with ineligible people trying to jump the line to get a shot.
"There was a big issue for parents of children who are disabled and they were serving as certified health care workers,'' county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "There was a letter that was just sort of a generic letter, it had nobody's name on it. Lots of people were Xeroxing it, frankly, lots of people were using it inappropriately to claim they were in fact the health caretakers of their children.
"... I feel so bad about this, but there are literally hundreds of people every day that come to our (vaccination) sites that are not really in an eligible group, and some of these folks have gone to great lengths to establish eligibility when they're taking appointments from people who rightfully are eligible," she said. "... Those parents that are the certified caregivers for their children, they will in fact be able to get vaccinated, but they have to show some kind of verification that actually has their name on it and is personalized, as opposed to a generic letter that many people have been trying to use."
Vaccinations are still limited in the county to health care workers, residents and staff of long-term or skilled nursing facilities and people over age 65. But Ferrer said the county will be working within that 65-and-older group to target those people who may be more vulnerable to severe illness from the virus -- such as those with underlying health conditions, those who work in places that could expose them to COVID, those who are homeless or those who live in particularly hard-hit communities.
"We're going to be opening more community vaccination sites in hard-hit communities,'' Ferrer said. "We're going to have our mobile teams go out to where people who are older may be residing and have limited ability to get to appointments at some of the other sites. And we're going to be working with pharmacies, health care and clinics to reach out to their high-risk older patients to make sure that we're getting them in to get vaccinated."
She noted that the county has administered more than 1 million doses of vaccine, and is moving at a faster pace than other large counties across the nation. But she said the continued limited vaccine supply "does require balancing priorities."
"While the state is updating their distribution plans, we do need to stay focused on protecting the most vulnerable, with the goal of reducing mortality,'' she said.
Ferrer said the county could receive a higher allotment of shots next week, possibly over 200,000, but many of those shots will again be reserved for people who are due for their second dose of the two-shot regimen.
The county reported another 256 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, while Long Beach health officials announced 15 and Pasadena one, lifting the cumulative countywide death toll to 17,324.
Another 5,189 cases were reported by the county, while Long Beach added 186 and Pasadena 41, raising the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 1,129,730. The daily case numbers have been dropping dramatically since early January, when the county was regularly reporting more than 10,000 cases per day.
Hospitalizations also continue to drop, with state figures showing 4,990 people hospitalized in the county as of Wednesday, including 1,354 in intensive care. The county had more than 8,000 people hospitalized earlier this month.
County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said that while the numbers are improving, some hospitals remain overwhelmed, with all ICU beds filled. Average daily hospital admissions due to COVID are now about 400, which is half the level of early January. But those numbers ``are still very much higher than what we were seeing during the summer surge in July.''
Ferrer said the county has confirmed the third case of a coronavirus variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom. While the variant is not considered more dangerous, it is more easily passed from person to person, meaning it could quickly spread to someone more at risk of severe illness from the virus.
With that backdrop, Ferrer again issued a warning against gatherings for this Sunday's Super Bowl.
"I understand this is normally a wonderful time to get together with friends and extended family, but this year, as you all know, is different,'' she said. "And we don't want or need another step backwards in our recovery journey. The serious consequences of gathering indoors with people outside of your household to watch the Super Bowl is just not worth it. Enjoy the game, cheer for your team and do it all from a comfortable chair or couch in your home, with those you live with."