Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in recent months in Los Angeles County have been among unvaccinated residents, the same group most at risk of being infected with a new, more contagious coronavirus variant circulating in the county, officials said Wednesday.
“This is a pandemic of unvaccinated people,” L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a briefing.
Between Dec. 7 and June 7, 98.7% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 weren’t vaccinated and 99.8% of people who died weren’t vaccinated either, according to the health director.
“If we’re not careful, there can be troubling increases in cases as barriers to transmission are removed,” Ferrer said.
The warnings come as the county records “very small increases” in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and daily test positivity rates after a long period of declines in the numbers, according to Ferrer, who added that she’s not worried about another surge, despite the small uptick.
With vaccinations slowing down and clusters of the Delta variant being found in the county, the health director is urging residents to continue taking precautions — especially if they’re not vaccinated.
While sequencing to find variants — mutated forms of the coronavirus — remains limited, the Delta variant of concern is being increasingly detected in the county.
This variant, first detected in India but now spreading in dozens of countries, is mostly being found in people who haven’t been inoculated and is considered more contagious than even the other highly contagious variants reported, according to Ferrer.
L.A. County has recorded 123 cases of the variant. Of those, 89% were among unvaccinated people.The rest were among either partially vaccinated residents or people who have received both jabs, according to data from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
“The data does support the protection that’s offered by the vaccine, and it suggests that those fully vaccinated who became infected experienced relatively mild illness,” Ferrer said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, recently called the Delta variant “the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19.” But he also stressed that vaccines are effective against it.
“Where there are pockets of unvaccinated individuals, these variants can proliferate,” L.A. County’s health director said.
Cases of the Delta variant have also been geographically clustered in the county.
Of the 123 Delta variant cases collected, 49 of them were isolated from residents of Palmdale and Lancaster. Fourteen of them were from one household.
Despite concerns about the variant and a small recent uptick in case numbers, Ferrer noted that the increase in cases seen recently may not amount to anything concerning.
But she warned that disproportionality in who’s being vaccinated and infected needs to be addressed.
Younger Black and Latino residents have the lowest vaccination rates in the county.
“Given that so many of the unvaccinated young and middle aged adults are part of our essential workforce, it is critical that we protect them, especially now that we’re fully reopened,” Ferrer said.