LA County COVID-19 cases continue to fall, but patient numbers remain dangerously high

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - COVID-19 case numbers continued to stabilize in Los Angeles County Thursday, following a weeks-long surge, with public health officials saying the average number of daily new infections has dropped 30% over the past week.
  Average hospitalizations are down 7% from last week, but patient numbers remain dangerously high, as reflected in deaths that topped 200 for the second day in a row, health officials said.
  The county reported another 262 deaths on Thursday, although 32 of those fatalities were actually announced Wednesday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena.
  Long Beach announced another 15 deaths on Thursday, while Pasadena added six more. The new deaths lifted the countywide death toll from throughout the pandemic to 14,662.
  The county on Thursday reported 8,512 new cases, while Long Beach added 472 and Pasadena announced 98. The new cases pushed the overall number since the start of the pandemic to 1,046,591.
  Over the past seven days, the county is averaging 10,560 new cases per day, down from 15,182 a week ago, according to the Department of Public Health.
  State figures showed 7,073 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, including 1,687 people in intensive care. That compares with 7,263 people hospitalized on Wednesday, and 1,692 in intensive care.
  Estimates released Wednesday by the Department of Health Services showed that since Nov. 3, about 23% of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 have died -- up from 12% in September and October. Health officials said the increase is not indicative of a decline in quality-of-care, but the result of overwhelmed hospitals admitting only the very sickest of patients in recent weeks.
  That move also contributed to the average hospital stay for patients increasing to more than nine days, up from less than seven in October.
  County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday the seven- day average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 14%, down from more than 20% at the end of December. The number of people hospitalized averaged more than 8,000 on Jan. 5, dropping to 7,383 on Jan. 15, and now falling even lower.
  "While it's too soon to tell if we're actually seeing a significant decline in the surge ... we are very hopeful that the actions taken by many are starting to work," she said. "Unfortunately, even if cases are beginning to decline, these numbers are still really high and they're doing to continue to drive overcrowding in hospitals and high numbers of deaths.
  "The reality for us is that COVID-19 is still rampant at our workplaces, in our neighborhoods and really across every corner of this county," she said.
  Ferrer continued to urge patience among people trying to make appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations, noting that slots are limited due to scarce supplies of vaccine. The appointment website -- vaccinatelacounty.com -- was back running again after crashing Tuesday afternoon.
  The county also expanded the capacity of its call-in reservation system, which is available from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 833-540-0473. But that line was experiencing high call volumes Thursday, prompting officials to urge residents to use the call system only if they are unable to make appointments through the website.
  Ferrer said Wednesday the county expects to receive about 143,900 more doses of the vaccines next week. However, since people need to receive two doses of the medication, spaced three to four weeks apart, the bulk of the vaccine coming next week will be used to administer second doses to people who have already received the first shot.
  She estimated that only 37,900 of the doses coming next week will be available for people to receive their first dose.
  "This is what I mean by a serious supply problem," she said. "We just are not receiving enough vaccine doses to move as quickly as we and you would like us to."
  She said that as of the end of last week, the county had received 685,000 doses, with 307,000 used so far for first doses and 87,000 for second doses. The county is still working to complete vaccinations of hundreds of thousands of health care workers with remaining doses, even as it expands access to people 65 and older. The county received another 168,000 doses this week.
  State officials have said it could take until summer to finish vaccinating all residents 65 and over. Ferrer said Wednesday there are 1.3 million people in Los Angeles County aged 65 and over, along with about 800,000 health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. So completing the two-dose vaccination of those people along will require more than 4 million doses. As of this week, the county has only received about 853,000 doses total.
  Absent any change in the vaccine priority list, that means the rest of the county's 10 million residents will be waiting months to have a shot at being vaccinated.
  The county got some good news Wednesday night, when the state lifted a hold that was placed on a batch of Moderna vaccine when six health care workers in San Diego developed severe allergic reactions. The state's epidemiologist announced the hold Sunday night, pending an investigation by state and local authorities. That took 30,000 doses of vaccine received by L.A. County out of circulation.
  But the state announced Wednesday night that the investigation into the doses had been completed, with no issues found, and counties were cleared to begin using the shots again.
  Ferrer said some doses from the affected batch had already been administered in Los Angeles County before the hold was announced, with no reports of any allergic reactions.