Health officials urge vaccinations as L.A. County sees surge in virus cases

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Visitors wear masks as they walk in a shopping district Thursday, July 1, 2021, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Visitors wear masks as they walk in a shopping district Thursday, July 1, 2021, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

California public health officials pleaded Friday for people to get vaccinated as the state’s largest county reported hundreds of additional COVID-19 infections.

Los Angeles County reported 549 new cases in a single day, the most since mid-April. The county averaged nearly 300 new cases a day over a seven-day period that ended Wednesday, representing an increase of 85% from the seven-day period that ended June 24.

The rate of coronavirus tests that were positive was 1.3%, more than quadruple the low of 0.3% seen in the first week of June, the county Department of Public Health reported.

The positivity rate in the county of nearly 10 million is still lower than the statewide rate of 1.5% and its rates of infection, hospitalizations and deaths are a fraction of those seen during a fall and winter wave when hundreds of people were dying daily.

Even so, the county and California as a whole have seen large increases in caseloads in the two weeks since the state did away with its color-coded tier system of COVID-19 restrictions, ended most business capacity restrictions and lifted many distancing and mask rules for vaccinated people.

“With Fourth of July holiday celebrations happening this weekend, the best way to stay safe is to be fully vaccinated,” the county public health department urged. “If you are not vaccinated and around people outside your household, your mask offers strong protection against the virus.”

California on Friday confirmed 1,792 new COVID-19 cases. The state has seen an increase of about 17% in the daily caseload in the last 14 days.

Meanwhile, the death rate from COVID-19 during the pandemic plunged in a San Francisco Bay Area county after it took a second look using a different methodology.

A majority of new infections involve the delta variant of COVID-19, a mutation that ravaged India and which officials said may be twice as transmissible as the conventional strain. Fully vaccinated people are considered fairly resistant but the strain poses a serious threat to those who aren’t fully vaccinated — approximately half of all California residents.

That includes about 4 million people in LA County, where “another wave could become a very real possibility,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

That figure also counts children younger than 12 who aren’t yet authorized for the shots.

State officials, however, said the overall COVID-19 statistics remain near an all-time low and some increases were expected after the state was reopened on June 15.

“There is no anticipation of any threat to the state’s health care system capacity,” the state Department of Public Health said in a statement Friday. “There are enough people vaccinated against COVID-19 that the system is not at risk of being overwhelmed if cases increase.”

More than 63,000 people died of COVID-19 in the nation’s most populous state since the pandemic began 1 1/2 years ago. On Friday, the state reported another 45 deaths.

But Santa Clara County dropped its death toll by nearly 23%.

The county had been including in its COVID-19 death toll anyone who tested positive for the virus before or after they died, regardless of the listed cause of death. But going forward, the count will only include those who have COVID-19 stated as a contributing cause of death on death certificates, said Dr. Sarah Rudman, the county’s assistant public health officer.

The original system was used during the COVID-19 surge when information was harder to come by because of the soaring death rate at a time when it was important to quickly share information with the public, Rudman said.

“Now we’re able to do that deep review of the death certificates to make those detailed assessments,” she said.

The change, which follows a similar move in Alameda County in early June, drops the overall number of COVID-19 fatalities in Santa Clara County to 1,698 people.

The new method is in line with the California Department of Public Health, which doesn’t include COVID-19-infected people in its death count if their death wasn’t virus-related.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a University of California, San Francisco epidemiologist, told the Bay Area News Group that it was important to provide a proper count to help fight misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations.

“Right now, as we’re trying to accurately reflect why someone died, naysayers will say, ‘They died from COVID even though they had the vaccine,’” Chin-Hong said. “It’s really super important — now more than ever — to disentangle who’s really dying from COVID.”

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