LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Local health officials remain concerned that the onset of cooler weather may lead to a new surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated.
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted that the approaching winter season - despite last week's mini-heat wave - has begun to take its toll in the form of higher infection rates as more people gather indoors.
"We do acknowledge the risk that comes with cooler weather and indoor gatherings, and perhaps some waning of vaccine effectiveness. getting vaccinated, getting your boosters and masking up indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces remains critical as we confront the real possibility of a winter surge," Ferrer said.
"Certainly around the country and across parts of the world, the colder weather has already brought significant increases in cases and unfortunately in hospitalizations. It would be foolish to not heed the warrant inherent in these increases. Our ample supply of vaccinations allows us to offer the initial series to everyone 5 and older, and boosters for those with waning protection, putting us in a better position to prevent the tragic heartbreak we experienced last winter.''
But absent a major increase in the pace of people getting vaccinated, the county will not meet its goal of having 80% of the population aged 12 and over fully vaccinated by the end of the year. Ferrer said the current vaccination pace would need to increase by 60% to reach the goal.
"While this is a big jump in vaccinations, it would be do-able if the urgency of this moment motivates people to get vaccinated, because we have plenty of supply," she said.
As of Tuesday, 81% of county residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, and 73% are fully vaccinated. Of the county's overall 10.3 million population, 70% have received at least one dose, and 63% are fully vaccinated.
Ferrer said the county has seen a sharp rise in recent weeks of unvaccinated people who wind up infected and hospitalized, while the pace among vaccinated residents has remained mostly flat. Figures show unvaccinated residents are now seven times more likely to become infected with COVID than their vaccinated counterparts, and 44 times more likely to be hospitalized. The risk of death is 60 times higher among the unvaccinated, Ferrer said.
Of the more than 5.9 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 72,163 have subsequently tested positive, for a rate of 1.22%, Ferrer said. A total of 2,424 vaccinated people have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.041%, and 396 have died, a rate of 0.007%.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus remains low, at 0.98% as of Friday. The county's cumulative seven-day case rate, as estimated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has risen to 98 cases per 100,000 residents. That number was in the mid-70s two weeks ago.
At 98 cases per 100,000 residents, the county is on the verge of being downgraded out of the CDC's "substantial" transmission category to the "widespread" category.
The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals has dropped to an even 600, falling from 604 on Saturday, according to the latest state figures released Sunday.
Of those patients, 163 were in intensive care, down from 170 the previous day.
County health officials reported 979 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and six additional deaths associated with the virus. The number of cases and deaths likely reflect reporting delays over the weekend, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The latest numbers brought the county's cumulative total to 1,511,324 cases and 26,862 fatalities since the pandemic began.
Ferrer said last week that while daily COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are down dramatically from the same time last year, the numbers remain too high and the daily report of virus-related deaths remains almost identical from last year.
"The similar number for deaths is a reminder of the destructive power of this virus, and the relatively high numbers of cases and hospitalizations are a reflection of the dominance of the more infectious Delta variant,'' Ferrer said during an online media briefing Friday.