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LA’s COVID Cases Are Down, But It’ll Take More Shots To Break ‘A Cycle Of Surges’

A line graph showing new COVID-19 cases decreased by 16% in L.A. County since last week.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Department of Public Health)
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New COVID-19 case numbers are falling in Los Angeles County, a welcome change from a summer surge that started in mid-June.

The county’s case rate decreased by 19% over two weeks in August.

“L.A. County went from seeing nearly 22,000 cases to seeing about 17,800 cases,” said county public health director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday at her weekly press briefing.

Even though transmission in L.A. County remains high, the seven day cumulative case rate is currently at 159 new cases per 100,000 residents — a 16% decrease from just last week.

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Ferrer said it’s hard to establish with certainty if the dip in cases will continue, due to the highly contagious delta variant and the mingling of unvaccinated people, including children too young for the shot who are now back in school.

“It's important to note that we are seeing less transmission across the board in general," said Ferrer, "but because the delta variant is so capable of infecting lots of people, we still have very high numbers of people getting infected.”

A line graph showing unvaccinated people 18-49 have the highest COVID-19 case rates in L.A. County.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Department of Public Health)

Ferrer cautioned that a cycle of peaks and valleys in cases could continue into the fall and winter, unless more people get the free vaccines.

“We administered a little over 63,000 doses across the entire county network [last week.] In order to avoid the cycles of surges, we do need to see this number rise significantly if we're to take a different path through the coming months,” Ferrer said.

Health officials hoped to see more people get shots after the Pfizer vaccine received full approval by the Food and Drug Administration for people 16 and older, but Ferrer said they have not seen an increase.

About 56% of L.A. County residents are fully vaccinated. The most vaccinated people are over the age of 65.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Department of Public Health)

Unvaccinated Latinos now have the highest case rate of any race or ethnicity in the county. For months, unvaccinated Black residents experienced the highest rate of new cases, but have recently seen a drop.

“We believe that it's associated with the fact that many more people are back at work [where] there's a lot more intermingling,” Ferrer said. “Latinx and Black residents make up a large part of some of the essential workforce, where maybe more people are coming into those establishments and there may be more exposures.”

Unvaccinated Black residents still have the highest death rates from the virus.

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A table showing that Black residents have the lowest vaccination rate of any race or ethnicity in L.A. County. Asian residents have the highest.
(Courtesy of the L.A. County Department of Public Health)

Increased Cases Among 5-11 Year Olds

Last week there were eight coronavirus outbreaks in K-12 schools in L.A. County, up from three the previous week. The county defines those outbreaks as cases where three or more students infected one another at school, as opposed to them being infected elsewhere.

School-aged children not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination have experienced an increase in cases since the new school year began. Health officials reported a 50% increase among children 5 to 11, while the rate increased 13% in children 4 years old and younger. Even among 12- to 17-year-olds, who are eligible for the vaccine, there has been a 24% increase in cases.

Vaccinations have played a key role in keeping older children from contracting the virus. Health officials reported that unvaccinated 12-to-17 year olds had eight times the risk of infection than those vaccinated in the same age group, with 480 cases among every 100,000 unvaccinated children, compared with 57 cases among 100,000 of those vaccinated.

In K-12 school settings countywide, between August 15-29, there were 5,207 student cases and 729 staff cases reported, with the vast majority occurring at LAUSD, which tests everyone weekly. There are 1.5 million students and 200,000 staff members in Los Angeles County schools.

But the majority were just one or two cases, not outbreaks of three or more cases, though many students who were in close contact with those infected were quarantined.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.