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'Shockingly Low' Numbers Of Black Angelenos Have Been Vaccinated So Far

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Courtesy LA County Dept. of Public Health

More than a million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have gone into the arms of LA County residents so far, but the rollout is not reaching all Angelenos equally.

According to county public health officials, about half of those who have received at least one shot of the vaccine are white or Latino, while just 3.5% are Black.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer called those numbers "shockingly low," saying they highlight a "glaring inadequacy" in how the vaccine is distributed.

She said the county is trying to solve the problem:

"We're going to continue to work with our community partners to ensure that we're not only getting everyone vaccinated quickly, but we're addressing the need to provide easier access to neighborhood sites and better access to accurate information about the vaccines."

Courtesy LA County Dept. of Public Health

The data also shows a marked disparity among residents aged 65 and older who have been vaccinated, with Black residents making up just 7% of that group.

That's the lowest rate among all racial and ethnic groups in that age category, compared to about 17% of older white Angelenos, and 18% of older Asian Angelenos.

READ MORE ABOUT VACCINES AND RACE:

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LA Health Officials Confirm 5 Cases Of More Contagious UK COVID-19 Strain

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A pedestrian wearing his facemask walks past a boarded up Foreign Currency Exchange service in Los Angeles, California on November 30, 2020. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

Los Angeles County health officials have now confirmed a total of five cases of the coronavirus strain originally detected in the United Kingdom.

That variant is much more contagious than the strain currently dominating the United States. A recent study confirmed CDC estimates, that cases caused by this newer strain could double about every 10 days.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer says that while L.A. has not seen clusters tied to the variant (like the ones spotted in San Diego County), it's likely that other mutated strains, including another that was recently found in South Africa, are circulating locally:

"We haven't seen the South Africa variant in any of the sequencing that we've done, but that doesn't mean it's not here. Which is why we're just saying to everyone, 'Assume it's here.'"

While both the Pfizer and Moderna versions of the COVID-19 vaccine are still effective against the U.K. variant, South African officials have paused distribution of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because of concerns it's less effective against the local strain of the virus.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved for use in the United States.

Ferrer also dismissed speculation that a more contagious variant was behind the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in L.A. County. She instead pointed to private gatherings and people not taking basic precautions over the holidays.

STRAIN DETECTED IN O.C.

Health officials in Orange County say a San Clemente man has tested positive for the U.K. strain. It's the first known case of the variant in Orange County.

Orange County Medical Director Doctor Matthew Zahn says the man did not travel outside the United States, so there are likely more cases in the area.

He also said the case is not part of a larger outbreak and the patient did not experience serious illness.

County staff is working on contact tracing and testing the man's contacts.

A CLOSER LOOK AT LOCAL COVID-19 NUMBERS:

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Ask An Expert: Why Does The COVID-19 Vaccine Sometimes Cause A Fever?

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Vita Susin, a respiratory therapist at UC Irvine Health, prepares to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Chava Sanchez/LAist

Some people feel mildly sick after getting the COVID-19 vaccine although the shot doesn't contain the live virus.

We asked Doctor Kimberly Shriner, an infectious disease specialist at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, why that happens.

"When you get vaccinated, the vaccine introduces the recipe for the spiked protein on the virus. It teaches the cell to make only the spiked protein, not to make the whole virus. That's why you don't get COVID," Shriner says.

Shiner explains that the spiked protein shows the immune system how to make antibodies for COVID-19.

That's why in the first day or two after getting the first or second shot, some people feel a bit draggy or have a little fever, Shriner says. Having a fever can be a sign that your body is doing its job and creating antibodies.

Sometimes the second shot can cause more side effects.

"Your immune system now knows that spiked protein and goes, 'Ooh, I've seen that before and I don't like it. I'm going to make some antibodies,'" Shriner says.

Those side effects you might be feeling? The fever and drowsiness are responses from your immune system — not the coronavirus.

Shriner says this doesn't mean that people who don't feel sick after getting the vaccine aren't having a good immune response. It only means some people are more sensitive than others.

Note that fever and fatigue are mild to moderate side effects of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. An FDA analysis found "no specific safety concerns."

READ MORE ABOUT HOW THE COVID-19 VACCINES WORK:

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Why Can’t I Find An Appointment For A First Dose Of A COVID-19 Vaccine This Week?

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A dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

For the rest of this week, vaccination sites run by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will not offer first-dose COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

Instead, after today, all of the appointments at those vaccination sites will be for people who have already gotten their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from LA Public Health and who are in need of their second one.

“Due to limited supplies of the vaccine, the county is limiting the number of new and first dose appointments,” Supervisor Hilda Solis told reporters Monday. “This is to ensure that we have enough doses to guarantee a second dose for people who already received the first one.”

LA County received 184,625 doses last week and will receive more than 218,000 doses this week, according to LA Public Health director Barbara Ferrer.

Supervisor Solis said she hopes vaccine supply will increase so the county can offer more first dose appointments in the future.

If your second dose is coming up, we wrote a guide to getting that appointment on the books -- whether you got your first dose at a site run by the County of LA, the City of LA, a health provider, or pharmacy.

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READ OUR GUIDE TO THE SECOND DOSE:

CHECK OUT OUR ONGOING COVERAGE OF COVID-19 VACCINES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:

Watch LA Native Amanda Gorman Recite 'Chorus Of The Captains' At The Super Bowl

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Amanda Gorman performs in a taped video message at the Super Bowl (Screenshot of NFL video, via Twitter)

Los Angeles native Amanda Gorman made history yesterday as the first person to perform an original poem at the Super Bowl.

Gorman delivered her poem "Chorus of the Captains," as a tribute to three people on the front lines of the pandemic: educator Trimaine Davis, nurse manager Suzie Dorner and Marine veteran James Martin.

"Today we honor our three captains

for their actions and impact

in a time of uncertainty and need,

They've taken the lead,

exceeding all expectations and limitations,

uplifting their communities and neighbors,

as leaders, healers and educators."

Gorman didn't perform on the field, but she appeared in a taped video message that combined her reading with images of Davis, Dorner and Martin:

Gorman also made history in January as the youngest person to ever recite a poem at a U.S. presidential inauguration.

Although her Super Bowl appearance was planned before the inauguration, football fans might not have been as happy about her performance as Inauguration-watchers. See the comments on the NFL's Twitter post.

READ MORE ABOUT AMANDA GORMAN:

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California To Receive 1M Vaccine Doses This Week, But That's Not Enough, Newsom Says

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Standing in Petco Park Vaccination Super Station in San Diego, California Governor Gavin Newsom delivered an update on the state's response to coronavirus. You can read highlights below or watch the full news conference above.

CALIFORNIA VACCINATION UPDATES

Last week, the state received 1 million vaccine doses, with 594,000 of those being first doses. Newsom said that isn't enough. About the same amount is expected this week, though the state is expecting more than 100,000 additional doses next week.

The governor said that 100,000 vaccine doses were reallocated last week due to pharmacies not making use of those doses. The state isn't holding back any vaccine, Newsom said. He says the Petco Park site could double vaccinations at that location if they were certain they had enough vaccines to give to people.

The state expects the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to be approved for emergency use by the end of February. The company says it will be able to provide more than 100 million doses nationwide beginning in June.

A third-party administrator, Blue Shield, is set to take over California's vaccine distribution efforts as of Feb. 15 — a week from today. The contract is still being finalized, with details announced next week, according to Newsom.

REOPENING SCHOOLS

The state continues to work with the California Legislature on a deal to reopen schools. Newsom said a deal could arrive soon.

Newsom said that the biggest obstacle to reopening schools is fear. He said that the state needs to prove that schools can reopen safely.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

There were just over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in the latest reporting period, according to Gov. Newsom. That's down from more than 50,000 cases in one day a month ago. The positivity rate has fallen from 14% to 5%.

There has been a 34% reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks, while ICU admissions are down 25%.

Newsom acknowledged that vaccinations have been slower than the state would like. So far, 4.65 million people have been administered the vaccine in California. He emphasized the importance of local partnerships.

So far, 153 cases of the so-called "U.K. variant" have been identified so far in the state, Newsom said. The Brazilian and South African variants have not been spotted,but there have been versions of the West Coast variants identified — 1,203 cases, so far.

Newsom spoke after local leaders, who opened the press conference. He noted that a new mass vaccination site in the Central Valley will be announced within days.

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Judge Blocks DA Gascón's Push For Shorter Sentences In Pending Cases

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DA George Gascon. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a significant setback to L.A. DA George Gascón’s reform agenda, a judge Monday blocked him from forcing his prosecutors to seek shorter prison sentences in hundreds of current criminal cases. Gascón had ordered his prosecutors to move to dismiss three strikes, gun, gang and other so-called sentencing enhancements.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued a preliminary injunction against Gascón at the request of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the union that represents 800 frontline prosecutors. He agreed with the union’s argument that under the state penal code, a prosecutor can only seek dismissal of enhancements based on the circumstances of a specific case, not in response to a policy directive.

But while the judge granted the union’s request for a preliminary injunction “in large part,” he said Gascon will be allowed to prohibit his prosecutors from filing most sentencing enhancements in future cases.

"He has almost unfettered discretion to perform his prosecutorial duties and the public expects him to evaluate the benefits and costs of administering justice in prosecuting crimes," the judge ruled. "He was elected on the very platform he is trying to implement and any intrusion on this prosecutorial discretion is not in the public interest unless clearly warranted."

The ruling makes two exceptions: prosecutors must initially file previous strikes under the Three Strikes law, which carry a sentence of 25 years to life, and they must filed any special circumstance allegations that would result in a sentence of live in prison without parole. Enhancements for using a gun, being a member of a gang or inflicting great bodily injury during the commission of a crime can add many years to a prison sentence.

The prosecutors' union hailed the ruling, saying the judge "ruled as we expected in holding that the District Attorney cannot order his prosecutors to ignore laws that protect the public from repeat offenders."

Gascón issued a statement saying he will appeal the ruling.

In his directive ordering an end to their use, Gascón argued enhancements have fueled mass incarceration of mostly Black and brown men, "[t]here is no compelling evidence that their enforcement improves public safety," and that "[i]n fact, the opposite may be true."

"California's mass incarceration problem can be tied directly to enhancements and the extreme sentencing laws of the 1990s," Gascon declared on Dec. 7, his first day on the job.

Many prosecutors believe enhancements help protect the public by putting criminals away for longer periods of time. They often play a key role in plea negotiations; prosecutors use them as a powerful bargaining chip, sometimes offering to drop enhancements in exchange for a guilty plea.

READ MORE ABOUT JUDGE CHALFANT'S RULING:

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Youngest Kids Could Return To Classrooms With More Staff Vaccinations

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LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner says elementary schools may be able to reopen for in-person classes, if certain conditions are met. (Courtesy of LAUSD)

L.A. Unified School District campuses could reopen for 250,000 elementary school students if 25,000 principals, teachers, and other staff are vaccinated, Superintendent Austin Beutner said in his weekly address on Monday.

"Vaccinate 25,000 people and reopen elementary schools in the nation’s second-largest school district. Sounds simple to me," Beutner said.

The vaccinations would be one of three conditions required to reopen campuses, Beutner said. The others are a series of safety protocols that he said are already in place, and lower COVID-19 case rates.

"School classrooms are closed because it is against the law for schools in Los Angeles Unified to reopen due to the continued dangerously high level of the virus in the communities we serve," Beutner said in the address.

Currently, teachers are not a prioritized group to receive vaccines in L.A. County, but local officials have indicated they will be next in line, after residents 65 and older.

LAUSD schools have remained closed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, aside from some small-group instruction for special needs students. In recent weeks, as case rates started falling, state and county officials encouraged districts to plan for broader school reopenings in the near future.

Still, Beutner and representatives of the district's teacher union have made it clear they expect more than downward trending cases before they're ready to get back in classrooms.

Beutner emphasized this point, in part, in response to last week's statement by L.A. City Councilmember Joe Buscaino that he will introduce a motion asking the city attorney to file a lawsuit seeking to force LAUSD to reopen schools. Beutner and school board members lashed out at Buscaino, calling his proposal a political stunt.

While Beutner did not mention Buscaino by name in his address, he said "threats of lawsuits, finger-pointing and speech-making won't help." He also addressed Buscaino’s inspiration for a lawsuit — a similar threat in San Francisco, which sued its own district last week. Over the weekend, the San Francisco public school district reached a tentative agreement with labor partners to reopen schools.

Beutner noted that the agreement was possible because San Francisco’s COVID-19 rate is much lower than the rate in Los Angeles.

"San Francisco authorities worked together and brought the rate of infection under control and the area for some time has met the state standard for school reopening, but that's just not the case in Los Angeles," Beutner said.

As of last week, the adjusted case rate in L.A. County was 38.7 positive cases per 100,000 people. To reopen, cases need to drop below 25 per 100,000. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer predicted the county could cross that threshold sometime this month.

Page 4 of Austin Beutner_February 8_Slides
Contributed to DocumentCloud by KPCC Documents (Southern California Public Radio) • View document or read text

Beutner's third criteria for reopening is implementing COVID-19 safety protocols, something he says is already complete.

"Los Angeles Unified has done more than any school district in the nation to prepare schools to welcome students back to in-person classes," Beutner said.

Beutner included a list of the preventative measures the district has in place, including new air filtration systems, distanced workspaces, health screening stations, plexiglass partitions and contact tracing programs. The district also plans to distribute six reusable cloth masks to each student when they return.

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We Asked, 'What Does It Mean To Be Black In LA?' Here Are Two Perspectives

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Onlookers at The Wall - Las Memorias AIDS memorial in East L.A. on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2004.

The theme of LAist's Black History Month coverage this year is: “What does it mean to be Black in L.A.?” We'll publish reponses from community members and staff throughout the month. Add your voice to the conversation below.

Last week, we shared a variety of experiences about being Black Angelenos from LAist readers and a longtime staffer. Today, an LAist reader, an immigrant from Kenya, and an LAist reporter, born in Colombia and moved to L.A. in 2018, share two very different experiences on being Black in L.A.


"I am an African immigrant living in Inglewood. I couldn't have asked for a better American family than my community. I knew how to be an immigrant in America, but being Black was a whole other skill set. And thankfully, I am surrounded by men and women who teach me about Blackness every day. So for me, being black in L.A. means to be 'awakened.'"

Peres, Inglewood

"My identity as a Black Colombian American often feels at odds with the predominant narrative of who lives and is L.A. There is so much vital and necessary celebration here of Mexican American culture and La Raza, but then so little recognition of the thousands of dark-skinned, Black Latinx folks who are essential to the fabric of this place.

"This got real for me a few years ago when someone I work with said to me, “You don’t look Colombian,” as if we’re all supposed to look like Shakira, or straight out of “Maria Full of Grace.” Latin America is very Black! But, thanks to white supremacy and deeply entrenched racism and colorism within the Latinx diaspora, our lived experiences are not the ones that make the mainstream.

"As a mixed-race Black person, I have tremendous privilege in how I present to the world. But I’ve felt discomfort in L.A. -- and within my own profession -- at having to 'choose' to fit in a racial box, ironically, in one of the most diverse cities in this nation."

Emily Elena Dugdale, North Hollywood


MORE ON BEING BLACK IN LA

MORE FROM RACE IN LA

The first installment of our The 8 Percent project began exploring the inextricable ties between L.A. and its Black residents — how Black migration, community and culture have shaped and changed L.A. For Black History Month, we’re homing in on a more specific experience — yours. Tell us: What does it mean to you to be Black in L.A.?

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Morning Brief: LA’s Vaccine Inequity Mirrors The Rest Of The County

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A dose of the Pfizer BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

As local data is collected and processed, the emerging picture of vaccinations in L.A. County is mirroring the picture from across the country: Black and Latina/o Angelenos are being vaccinated at a much lower rate than other populations.

The most recent data shows that more than twice the number of white, Asian and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander residents have received the vaccine than Black and Latina/o residents.

While some have pointed to the Black community’s mistrust of the medical community to explain the disparity, Dr. Jerry Abraham, director of vaccine programs at Kedren Health, disagrees.

“Misinterpreting lack of access for hesitancy was to me very offensive, because the Black and brown health care workers that came [to vaccine sites] came with their sleeves rolled up, and they were ready for a vaccination,” he said.

Data from other states shows the same trend; according to a Kaiser Health News analysis, 1.2% of white Pennsylvanians had been vaccinated as of mid-January, compared with 0.3% of the state’s Black residents. Inequities have also been found in Maryland, Nevada, Texas, Washington state, North Carolina, and dozens of other regions.

These trends come after the well-publicized fact that Black and Latina/o communities have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Many residents, advocates and experts have expressed concern that state and local officials are prioritizing speed over equality when it comes to vaccine distribution. Those concerns were exacerbated when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California would move to age-based eligibility once residents over 65 are vaccinated.

Another concern is line-cutters; officials in L.A. recently reported that some people appear to be giving their second dose appointments to others, so they can receive a first dose.

Writing in The Washington Post, medical experts (and twin sisters) Uché and Oni Blackstock propose four solutions to vaccine inequity: putting Black Americans on the priority list, explicitly using race and ethnicity as a qualifying factor; identifying accessible vaccine sites in Black communities; public education campaigns; and the mandated collection of racial and ethnic data on vaccinations.

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 … Want To Buy A Town?

The Whistle Stop Cafe and Saloon in Nipton, California. (Brent Holmes for LAist)

Located on the eastern edge of San Bernardino County, where it bumps up against Nevada, Nipton, CA feels far away from everything.

But it's only a one-hour drive from Las Vegas, off the busy I-15 corridor on Nipton Road, which connects the towns of Mountain Pass and Searchlight. Surrounded by flat valleys and mountain vistas, the landscape of creosote and yucca is broken only by the occasional road or the glare from the Ivanpah solar plant.

The 80-acre patch in the Mojave Desert with one hotel, one restaurant, five eco-cabins, 10 teepees and an RV park is up for sale ... again.


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