In a week that homeless people became officially eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, Los Angeles County officials reported Thursday a sharp decline in infections among that population, dropping from 620 cases per week in late December to 58 this week.
Of those 58 cases, 48 infections actually occurred in previous weeks but were just recently reported, according to the county Department of Public Health.
Since the start of the pandemic, 7,061 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among the homeless, and 194 have died, according to the county.
The drop in cases among the homeless mirrors an overall downward trend that has been occurring countywide since early this year, following a major winter surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The county on Thursday reported another 933 cases, lifting the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,212,586.
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Photos: Sharp Decline in COVID-19 Cases Among LA County's Homeless Population
Another 88 deaths were also reported by the county, raising the overall death toll to 22,664.
Newly reported cases Thursday afternoon by Long Beach and Pasadena lifted that total to 1,212,648.
Another 88 deaths were also reported by the county, while Long Beach and Pasadena each reported one, raising the overall death toll to 22,666.
Hospitalization numbers, while down dramatically from early January, have leveled off in the county in recent days. According to state figures, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients actually climbed slightly between Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and on Thursday the number held steady at 861, but the number of people in intensive care climbed from 225 to 238.
In a statement released Thursday, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer again urged residents and businesses to avoid complacency and continue to practice caution.
“The success of the county's recovery and the safety of at-risk residents and workers, depends on businesses and residents closely following the rules,” she said. “If our COVID-19 transmission decreases, lives are saved, and we will be allowed to continue to open more businesses and ease activity specific restrictions in the future.
“We all experienced what happens when public health safety measures are not followed closely,” she said in reference to the surge in cases over the winter months. “We have to avoid increases that can easily lead to more people suffering and take us backwards on our recovery journey. As more people are vaccinated, universal cooperation with safety measures is what will keep us moving forward with our recovery journey.”
According to the county, health inspectors have continued to encounter violations at businesses, particularly at restaurants with unapproved tent structures, tables less than eight feet apart and staff failing to wear face shields along with masks. Some retail stores were failing to monitor capacity indoors.
During a briefing Wednesday, Ferrer said that despite the overall downward trend in COVID-19 statistics -- potentially allowing the county to move into the less-restrictive orange tier of the state's reopening matrix by next month -- she will continue to fear a possible reversal of fortune.
“We're going to worry until we get to a place where we have the vast majority of people here in L.A. County vaccinated,” Ferrer said. “...We do know what steps we can take absent getting vaccinated to protect each other. Nothing has changed on that and the need to do it hasn't changed either.
“...But yes, we're going to worry and continue to ask people to help us by making sure that we in fact don't have any (case increases),” she said. “We need to continue to keep case numbers low. Also, it's in everyone's best interest. Lots of people are talking to me about, you know, `I'm so excited, maybe we're going to get to the orange tier soon.' And yes, maybe we are, but we get there together by playing by the rules.”
Los Angeles County this week moved out of the state's most-restrictive purple tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which governs the reopening of businesses and activities during the pandemic. The county is now in the less-restrictive red tier, but if case numbers continue trending downward, it could advance to the orange tier by early April, allowing more capacity at businesses and potentially reopening bars for outdoor service.
Ferrer on Wednesday touted ongoing vaccination efforts, saying the county is administering 94% of the doses it receives within seven days, a statistic she called “extraordinary.”
She outlined plummeting infection numbers among health care workers and residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities -- the first groups of people who were eligible for the vaccines. She said the sharp drops in cases are clear evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Ferrer acknowledged the possibility of people trying to “jump the line” and get vaccinated before they are eligible, particularly with shots now available to people who self-attest at a vaccination site that they have a qualifying underlying health condition. But she said health officials “remain hopeful that everyone again is waiting their turn.”
“Our experience is there are always a few people that are trying to jump the line, but the vast majority of people in fact are playing by the rules,'' she said.