LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- With vaccine supplies still limited, Los Angeles County will again reserve the majority of its available vaccinations next week to provide second doses for those ready to receive them, with county-operated large-scale sites exclusively administering second doses, health officials announced.
"Next week the majority of appointments at our vaccinations sites will continue to be for second doses,'' said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health said Friday. "We will only be providing second doses at our Mega-POD (point of dispending) sites.''
The county operated Mega-PODs are at the Pomona Fairplex, Magic Mountain, the Forum, the county Office of Education in Downey and Cal State Northridge.
He said first doses will be available at other locations, primarily at health centers, pharmacies "and other providers that serve the areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.''
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Due to the lack of doses, city-run sites such as Dodger Stadium, Hansen Dam, Crenshaw Clinic, San Fernando Clinic and Lincoln Park Clinic are temporarily closed. The city ran out of vaccines late last week, and the city-run sites are expected to reopen Tuesday or Wednesday.
The county has been receiving roughly 200,000 doses each week, although the actual amount has varied wildly week-to-week, making advance planning for reservations difficult. Supplies were so limited this week, that the city of Los Angeles was forced to close the Dodger Stadium vaccination site and four other locations through the weekend because it exhausted its supply by Thursday afternoon.
"We share their frustration,'' Simon said. "We're all frustrated. We know that we could do much more if we had more doses. For example, we're now receiving about 200,000 doses each week, and as we've surveyed all of our providers, we're confident that we could administer up to 600,000 doses a week. So we have much, much greater capacity if we can get the available vaccine.''
Simon and county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis both said increasing supplies will be critical as more people become eligible for the shots -- noting that the state plans to expand eligibility next month to all people aged 16 or over who have underlying medical conditions or disabilities that make them highly susceptible to death or severe illness from COVID.
Davis recognized the generally improving downward trends in daily cases, but stressed that while the numbers are getting better, they're still high, and "the risk of running into someone with COVID-19 who may not know it is still very high.''
The county reported another 137 COVID deaths on Friday, while Long Beach health officials announced 14 fatalities and Pasadena one, lifting the overall death toll to 18,804.
Another 3,497 new cases were also confirmed by the county, along with 124 by Long Beach and 29 by Pasadena, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,161,926.
The county also reported another 15 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, raising the overall total to 90, including one death. Health officials noted there has been a 35% increase in the number of MIS-C infections locally over the past two weeks. The syndrome generally develops in children after they had COVID-19, although it has occasionally affected patients with no known prior infection.
According to state figures, there were 3,426 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID as of Friday, with 1,032 people in intensive care. In early January, there were more than 8,000 people hospitalized due to the virus.
"So there is positive news in terms of things coming down,'' Davis said. "We want that to continue to come down because as those case numbers come down we get into less restrictive tiers and are able to consider opening up more of the economy ... and have less restrictive modifications.''
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He urged people to continue adhering to protocols such as masking and physical distancing. He acknowledged changes that were formalized this week, allowing a resumption of indoor church services with limited capacity and limits on activities during services. But he stressed that despite the change, "it's still safer for places of worship to hold outdoor and remote services only. These are the safest options for those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and those that live with them.''
Davis also expressed dismay over plans by Sun Valley's Grace Community Church -- which has repeatedly defied county and court orders by holding massive indoor services -- to host an indoor religious conference in early March that typically attracts more than 3,000 people. He said the county is "exploring its options'' for challenging the event. Such conferences are barred under health restrictions, but it's unclear if the conflict would be exempted as a religious gathering.
On Friday night, however, the church announced it had opted to postpone the conference in light of its "ongoing litigation and recent threats from'' the county and state over the planned event.
In terms of vaccines, Simon said that most recent figures show 1,345,949 doses have been administered in the county, with 1,047,074 of them first doses. A total of 13.5 % of the county's population aged 16 and over have received at least one dose, and 3.8% of that population are fully vaccinated.
City News Service contributed to this report.