Los Angeles County health officials on Saturday warned that variants of the coronavirus continue to spread in the county, noting that a second case of an apparently more contagious strain first reported in the United Kingdom has been confirmed locally.
The county reported its first case of the U.K. variant B.1.1.7 on Jan. 16.
The presence of the variant in L.A. County means “virus transmission can happen more easily,” health officials said in a news release Saturday, urging the public to wear masks that cover the nose and mouth, maintain physical distance and avoid gathering with people they don’t live with.
“These strategies will only be effective in slowing the spread of any variant strain of COVID-19 if they are used by everyone all of the time,” officials said.
News of the second B.1.1.7 case also comes after the Dodger Stadium mass vaccination site reopened after it was temporarily shut down amid protesters blocking the site’s entrance early Saturday afternoon.
The Los Angeles Police Department announced in a tweet that preliminary reports suggested that ”protestors remained peaceful” at Dodger Stadium vaccination site.
Officer Rosario Cervantes, an LAPD spokeswoman, said the agency was aware of the Saturday rally and that it was planned to occur from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., with demonstrators to start gathering near the stadium entrance off of Vin Scully Avenue and Sunset Boulevard.
A fire official closed the entrance to the stadium for about an hour starting just before 2 p.m. as a precaution, the Los Angeles Times first reported.
Cervantes said police response to the event was minimal and no arrests had been made, as of 3 p.m. — when the vaccination site reopened. The site is usually open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The county reported 6,918 new coronavirus cases and 316 additional fatalities, bringing the countywide caseload total to 1,111,089 with 16,647 deaths.
On the bright side, Saturday’s test positivity rate was 9.9% — down 15 percent compared to just a week ago.
However, hospitalizations remain high. There were 5,669 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Saturday — 26% of them in intensive care units throughout the county.
The latest figures also come a day after county officials lifted the ban on outdoor dining, following Gov. Gavin Newson’s state-wide lift on stay-at-home orders.
L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Saturday that “although some restrictions were just lifted in our County, we are still in a very dangerous period in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”
“Because some sectors have re-opened, it doesn’t mean that the risk for community transmission has gone away; it hasn’t, and each of us needs to make very careful choices about what we do and how we do it,” Ferrer said. “This virus is strong, and we are now concerned about variants and what these will mean in our region.”
Health officials said Saturday that COVID-19 vaccination appointments for next week are available in L.A. County for those who qualify.
People currently eligible to get vaccinated in the county are health care workers, long-term care facility residents and those aged 65 and over.
Residents will be able to book their first and second dose appointments at the same time, officials said, and those seeking their second dose appointments will receive email confirmations.
“If you have not received an email yet, it will be sent soon,” the department said. “We appreciate your patience.”
Allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine continue to lag behind demand, with the county expecting to receive roughly 188,000 doses next week. Many of those, however, will be needed for second doses.
Vaccination appointments can be booked online at vaccinatelacounty.com or by calling 833-530-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. However, appointments at county sites were largely filled through the weekend.
Meanwhile, Ferrer on Saturday reminded members of the public to continue following health orders and guidelines so that the businesses operating again can remain open and that more can reopen in the future, too.
“Our case rates must continue to come down,” Ferrer said. “One way to do that is for everyone to follow all of the public health recommendations and directives all of the time.”