COVID-19 named leading cause of death in L.A. County; janitors, public transit workers now eligible for vaccine

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On the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19-related death in Los Angeles County, more workers have become eligible for a vaccine to combat the new leading cause of death, officials said.

Over the past year, 22,213 people in L.A. County have succumbed to the coronavirus, with 119 of those deaths reported Wednesday. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said before COVID-19 started its catastrophic spread last year, coronary heart disease was the number one killer.

“From March 1, 2020, to February 22, 2021, there were almost 11,000 deaths due to heart disease in L.A. County. That’s about half of the deaths we’ve seen in one year from COVID-19,” Ferrer said at a media briefing. “There’s been tremendous tragedy and suffering here and across the world.”

But L.A. County has been making strides and is inching its way to a less restrictive tier of California’s reopening plan. The county currently remains in the purple, or most-restrictive, tier but it has met the metrics required for movement to the red tier which is expected next Wednesday, provided test positivity and case rates stay below the threshold.

The county is now seeing the lowest number of daily cases since last April, with an average of less than 700 cases a day. On Wednesday 1,514 more coronavirus cases were reported, but included a few hundred backlogged cases, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported.

Hospitalizations are also decreasing and under 1,200 patients per day. Currently there are 1,079 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and 30% are in the intensive care unit.

And as of March 2, the average number of daily deaths have dropped to 40, but still remain high when compared to early November when that average was around 14.

Ferrer said despite cases, hospitalizations and deaths trending downward, the numbers are still not yet back down to pre-surge levels.

“While all of our numbers are moving in promising directions, hospitalizations and deaths are still high. This reminds us of how much suffering continues to happen during the aftermath of a surge in cases,” she said.

With high hopes of drastically reducing the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19, L.A. County officials are encouraging residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine upon eligibility. Those who are newly permitted to get a shot as part of the state’s Phase 1B are custodians, janitors, public transit workers and airport ground crew workers. Emergency service responders including social workers who handle cases of violence, abuse or neglect, and foster parents providing emergency for young people are also now eligible for a vaccine.

Vaccine appointments are currently in the process of being created for the newly eligible workers, Ferrer said, and should be available Saturday and Sunday at the large capacity county sites including The Forum in Inglewood.

Starting March 15, vaccine eligibility will open up to those deemed “higher risk” ages 16 to 64 with severe health conditions including cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, pregnancy, heart conditions, Sickle cell disease, solid organ transplant, severe obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

To check vaccine eligibility, or to make an appointment, visit myturn.ca.gov.

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