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LA County To Open Up COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments For People Over 65

A pharmacist at UCI Health holds a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis issued an executive order Monday evening directing the Department of Public Health to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments available to county residents 65 and older starting Thursday — and the county later said signups could start as soon as Tuesday.

Until now, appointments were only open to nursing home staff and residents, frontline health care workers, and first responders.

“The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been an enormous undertaking, especially during an unprecedented surge where cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to skyrocket,” Solis said in a statement.

“However, if we are to ever get out of this dark winter, it is critical that we make headway vaccinating people 65 years of age and older as soon as possible — in line with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recommendations.”

What does the executive order mean for L.A. County residents?

  • People 65 and older will be able to begin scheduling vaccine appointments with the Department of Public Health starting Tuesday, Jan. 19. The first appointments will be Wednesday. Jan. 20.

What about the bottleneck of supply and distribution that has caused problems for the vaccine rollout in L.A. County so far? It’s unclear how that will affect the availability of appointments. But county leaders say they’re confident L.A. will get new supplies soon, and expect the vaccine rollout to improve with the incoming Biden administration in the White House.

How can people 65 and older make appointments? The L.A. County Department of Public Health plans to release information with details Tuesday. The department also plans to hold a town hall to field vaccine questions which can be watched on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

This story was updated Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 3:10 p.m. with updated dates and links.

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CA Becomes First State In America To Hit 3 Million Cases Of COVID-19

LA has become a national COVID hot spot. Image Courtesy JHU

On Monday, California hit a milestone no one wanted -- it became the first state to reach three million COVID-19 infections, according to the tracker from Johns Hopkins University.

California has about 40 million residents, so the number isn't particularly shocking...but the speed it took to reach three million is.

Courtesy JHU

On Christmas Eve, California recorded its two-millionth case, meaning it took less than a month to add another million to the total count.

One third of all the cases in the state are here in L.A. County, which passed one million total cases this weekend, the most positive cases of any county in the country.

L.A. County aslo has the most cumulative deaths of any county in the U.S.

More than 33,000 Californians have died from COVID-19 thus far.

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New Coronavirus Variant Found In LA County And Throughout California

A sign announces free COVID-19 Testing in Boyle Heights. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

All viruses mutate over time, and Sars-CoV-2, which has become known worldwide as the novel coronavirus, is no exception. It’s mutated thousands of times since it was first identified more than a year ago.

Every once in a while a virus mutates in a way that helps it survive and reproduce. That may have happened with a new variant of the coronavirus popping up in California.

People have tested positive for COVID-19 with this new variant in 12 counties so far, including Los Angeles, Riverside, San Francisco, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Humboldt, Lake, Mono, Monterey, San Luis Obisbo, and also San Clara County, where it’s been linked to outbreaks.

Researchers are trying to determine if the new variant is more infectious than the current dominant strain.

“These viruses are pretty clever, and they are known to mutate,” said Karin Michels, chair of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

The variant contains mutations in the spike protein, which the viruses use to attack cell walls, Michels said. The two COVID-19 vaccines on the market, made by Pfizer and Moderna, train the body’s immune system to attack the spike protein.

“We are facing the first significant mutation of this virus right now. Luckily, it seems that it's mutated in a way that the current vaccine still protects from this new variant,” Michels said.

But if the virus remains unchecked, it will mutate faster, she said, potentially in a way that the current vaccines can't protect against.

“It could be, another variant that's developing right now, that will not be captured and covered by our vaccine. That’s why it is so important to vaccinate people as quickly as possible,” Michels said.

The new mutation is different from the highly contagious strain first discovered in the United Kingdom, which also has public health officials worried. The U.S. federal government has warned that the British variant could become the dominant strain in this country by March.

If that happens, hospitals could be overwhelmed by a rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases.

Michels said she’s worried.

“We're racing against the clock. Who is going to win, us or the virus?”


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Hate Crime Reported At Jewish Temple In Koreatown

(Courtesy of Wilshire Boulevard Temple)

LAPD detectives have opened a hate crime investigation into antisemitic graffiti that was reportedly spray-painted on a Jewish temple in Koreatown early Monday morning.

A photo captured by KTLA shows the words "I hate your race!!," written in cartoon-ish block letters on the side of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Investigators say surveillance video showed an unidentified man spray-painting the outside of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple at the corner of Wilshire and Hobart Boulevards around 2:30 a.m. Monday.

The temple issued a statement, expressing sadness that the act was done on a day meant to celebrate peace and unity:

"On this day when we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who chose courage over fear in the face of oppression, ignorance, and violence, we stand strong in our resolve and condemn this hateful act of antisemitic vandalism that defaced our historic sanctuary building. There is no place for hate in a civil society."

Wilshire Boulevard Temple was founded in 1862 as Congregation B’nai B'rith, the city’s first synagogue.

The department is asking anyone with information to call 877-LAPD-247.

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LA's Community Clinics Struggle To Handle Coronavirus Surge

A pharmacist at Clinica Romero. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, Courtesy Clinica Romero)

We know that hospitals in Los Angeles County are overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, but what about community clinics?

At Clinica Romero, which provides primary care services in Pico Union and Boyle Heights, about 40% of the COVID-19 tests are coming back positive, according to staff.

Dr. Don Garcia, the medical director there, is working to make Clinica Romero a monoclonal antibody infusion center. The drugs are supposed to help people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 avoid hospitalization. The infusions were approved for emergency use by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November.

But Garcia said access to the treatment isn't equitable. "Why do we not have five infusion centers in East L.A., where that's the highest infectivity [rate]?" he told LAist/KPCC. "Why is it always at the West side?"

And while Clinica Romero has been approved as a vaccine administration site, Garcia is also worried about staffing: "If we have difficulty doing thirty COVID tests a day, how are we going to respond to a thousand people wanting to come in and get the vaccine?"

To make matters more complicated, Garcia said, about half of the patients that Clinica Romero serves are uninsured and undocumented.

Communities of color — and poorer county residents in general — are experiencing a disproportionate share of coronavirus cases. Latino residents have had the most coronavirus deaths of any racial/ethnic group in L.A.

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5 More Vaccination 'Super Sites' Open Tuesday In LA County

The Forum in Inglewood opened April 15 as a testing site for L.A. County residents. It will re-open Tuesday Jan. 19, 2021 as a mass vaccination site. (Courtesy County of Los Angeles)

L.A. County is preparing to open five more vaccination super sites tomorrow, now that the biggest one at Dodger Stadium is up and running.

The locations are:

  • The Forum in Inglewood
  • The Pomona Fairplex
  • Cal State Northridge
  • The L.A. County Office of Education in Downey
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia

County officials say staff will be able to vaccinate 4,000 people a day at each location (and up to 12,000 a day at Dodger Stadium).

It's part of the county's goal to get 500,000 health care workers vaccinated by the end of the month. All vaccinations at these sites are administered free of charge.

“In L.A. County we have to vaccinate 10 million people, twice,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “These large-scale vaccination sites are going to help us get there by massively increasing our capacity to vaccinate people quickly and efficiently.”

There are also more than 75 smaller vaccination locations across the county.

Eligible healthcare workers can make an appointment here. To qualify for the vaccine, they must have one of the following verification documents:

  • a healthcare worker badge with a photo
  • a professional license and a photo identification (ID)
  • a signed letter from an employer and a photo ID
  • a payment stub from a healthcare provider with a name and a photo ID.

The county website warns that residents who aren't healthcare workers "should not attempt to register for a vaccine appointment, at this time. Doing so will take an appointment slot away from the frontline healthcare workers."

Right now, L.A. County is only vaccinating frontline health care workers and residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities. Officials say they'll move on to the next tier, Phase 1B, in early February.

Graphic from L.A. County's vaccination website


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Morning Brief: Inside The Protests

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

As 2020 rapidly became a year of historic protests around the country, some participants took on the responsibility of filming and photographing events as they unfolded. These individuals became known as "activist journalists" — unaffiliated with a news outlet, but doing the crucial work of documenting these moments in time.

One such local volunteer is Vishal P. Singh. The 27-year-old began covering local protests and the responses of law enforcement in May, after massive protests in the Fairfax district.

"I pretty much decided on that day [that] I am going to come at least to two-to-four protests a week," Singh told my colleague Frank Stoltze.

Putting himself at the center of events ranging from Black Lives Matter protests to pro-Trump rallies, Singh carries his iPhone 11 for filming, and frequently wears a flak jacket adorned with the word “PRESS.”

When not covering the political mayhem of the past year, Singh works as a documentary editor at Netflix:

"I think it's my opportunity and responsibility to use my skills to show a really honest, embedded perspective of what these protests are like, from the protesters' perspective.”

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

What Else You Need To Know Today

Before You Go … From Sports Bar To Queer Latinx Hub

Deysi Serrano, Luis Octavio and Donaji Esparza pose inside Noa Noa Place. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

If you think opening a bar at the peak of a pandemic sounds like a terrible idea, you're not alone. Yet the owners of Noa Noa Place, the newest queer space in Boyle Heights, did just that — and the venture isn't merely scraping by, it's thriving.

"One of the things that my mom always says in Spanish is 'bendita pandemia' — bless this pandemic. And I didn't understand why she would say that," says Luis Octavio, one of Noa Noa's three co-owners.

It wasn't until multiple surgeries landed Octavio in the hospital this summer that he began to consider what his mother might have meant.

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