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LA County Expands Vaccine Mandate To Include EMTs, Home Health Workers

A health care worker wearing blue scrubs is vaccinated in the arm by another worker.
Health care workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 at UC Irvine Health Center.
(Chava Sanchez
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In Los Angeles County, paramedics, EMTs, home health care workers and everyone who works in a dental office have been added to the list of health workers who must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of September.

Only health workers with religious or a qualifying medical condition can be exempted, and they will be tested weekly for the virus.

The order is a tightening of one issued by the California Dept. of Public Health on July 26, which gave the option of weekly testing for some unvaccinated health workers. That option no longer exists in L.A. County

“This order aligns with the state order and applies to volunteers, contractors and students in addition to all part and full time employees at our health care facilities,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county's public health director.

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The L.A. County Health Department will issue an FAQ to answer further questions, including who exactly is covered by the order, how they will prove their vaccination status and what the penalty for remaining unvaccinated will be.

“We do gain a new understanding just about every day about how the delta variant is spreading. Much of what we're learning affirms that it spreads more easily. And this is why we need to move swiftly to improve vaccination rates,” Ferrer said.

A line graph tracking unvaccinated/partially vaccinated and vaccinated groups shows unvaccinated people are more than 3.5 times more likely to get infected than vaccinated people.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

The Delta Surge Continues

Unvaccinated people are more than 3.5 times more likely to get infected than vaccinated people, and make up the vast majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, Los Angeles County health officials said on Thursday.

The surge of cases caused by the delta variant continues. L.A. County’s case rate increased 15% since last week, and health officials are routinely reporting more than 3,300 new cases daily.

“We expect to see these numbers rise with increased testing,” Ferrer said.

Meanwhile, the number of people getting vaccinated has plateaued. About 86,000 doses were given in the last week, down from the county’s goal of 100,000 per week.

Ferrer noted an “alarming increase in hospitalizations,” and said her department is meeting with hospital association members to talk about concerns related to the 300% rise in COVID-19 patients in the last month.

“To date, no hospitals have indicated that they are facing a significant crisis, our average bed availability is still sufficient,” Ferrer said. “But we’ve been here before, where things can change rapidly”.

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Unvaccinated 18- to 29-year-olds are nearly 50 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people in the same age group.

A graph showing 18-29 year olds are 50 times more likely to be hospitalized than unvaccinated people in their age group.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

For unvaccinated people over 50, there has been a 250% increase in hospitalizations since early July.

Even with those statistics, Ferrer said she didn’t think the county would be in the same position that it was last winter.

“While we’re seeing right now a lot of people who are ending up in the hospital, this mostly reflects that the people who have been getting tested up till now are people who are likely to have symptoms or a known exposure,” she said.

Vaccinated Teens Are Highly Protected

The stark divide between those who have gotten the shots and those that haven’t can also be seen in children and teenagers.

The case rate among unvaccinated 12- to 17-year-olds is 457 per 100,000. This is nearly seven times that among their vaccinated counterparts.

“For vaccinated teens there are hardly any hospitalizations,” Ferrer said.

Still, Ferrer said parents of children under 12 who are too young to be vaccinated should feel reassured about sending their children to school.

Looking at the data, Ferrer said three things really stand out.

  • Children, especially younger children, are much less likely to get infected.
  • Even those that do get COVID-19 are less likely to end up with serious illness requiring them to be hospitalized.
  • Of the nearly 25,000 COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County since the pandemic began, six were children.

Ferrer also said her team is "hearing there are relatively high rates of vaccination among staff and teachers at school.”

Together with masking requirements, distancing and infection control, she said: "I think parents can feel reassured that schools are creating as safe environment as possible.”

CLARIFICATION: The original version of this story said health workers included in this order need at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September. In fact, they must be fully vaccinated by then.

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