Public health officials touted “tremendous progress” in the fight against COVID-19 and loosened travel guidance as Los Angeles County advanced into the orange tier of the state reopening plan Monday.
The changes come amid a 97% drop in the number of new coronavirus cases reported each day. The seven-day average of new cases is now slightly under 400 per day, compared to 14,200 daily new cases on Jan. 5, county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a news briefing.
“This is similar to daily case numbers reported one year ago at the end of March, at the very beginning of the pandemic,” she said.
Hospitalizations are also down 92% from the beginning of this year, and the number of daily fatalities has decreased 92%, from 252 deaths per day to just nine, according to Ferrer.
On Monday, officials reported 366 new cases and one death, noting the numbers were likely appear lower than they are due to the usual lag in weekend reporting.
The changes announced Monday to the county’s travel advisory are meant to bring it in line with new guidance released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mirroring the CDC rules, travelers who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to be tested or quarantine upon returning to L.A. County.
Those who aren’t fully vaccinated must quarantine for seven days if they get a negative test result, or 10 days if they didn’t get tested upon arrival, officials say.
All travelers still must quarantine if they do begin to show signs of illness. And in general, non-essential travel is still discouraged, especially considering the increasing cases in hotspots nationwide and significant risk from more infectious coronavirus variants, Ferrer said.
“Travel is always associated with additional risks,” she said.
The public health director also cautioned that concerns about a fourth coronavirus wave in some places and new variants do pose a threat to L.A. County.
“We’re going to need to continue following public health safety measures until more people are vaccinated if we want to hold on to our gains,” Ferrer said, “particularly as we move into the orange tier.”
The county has received nearly 400,000 vaccine doses to administer this week, including 118,000 of the Johnson & Johnson shot.
Ferrer said that’s the largest allocation of doses the county has received yet, but “unfortunately, L.A. County does not still receive enough doses for our capacity.”
Once more Angelenos are fully vaccinated, Ferrer expects infections to further decrease.
She pointed to a drop in cases at county nursing homes, where 80% of residents and 81% of staff members are vaccinated. There were only 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff and residents for the week of March 23, down about 99% from early January.
“The dramatic drop is excellent evidence of just how powerful a tool are vaccines are,” Ferrer said.
This week, more than 100,000 doses — or 26% of the county’s allocation — will go to health centers and clinics serving the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, and another 54,000 will go to mobile vaccination efforts in those neighborhoods, Ferrer said.
The county is also set to receive $15 million in state funding to ramp up vaccinations in vulnerable areas, “thanks to the county’s continued collaboration with the governor and Blue Shield,” county Supervisor Hilda Solis announced at Monday’s briefing.
Grants of $250,000 to $500,000 will be given to clinics, community- and faith-based organizations, home health care agencies and mobile vaccinators to deploy resources and build their vaccine capacity, Solis said.
“This funding will go a long way toward building the infrastructure needed to close the racial and ethnic health disparities that this pandemic has made clear,” she said. “And as we approach April 15 with all adults in the county becoming eligible for the vaccine, it’s more important than ever that programs are in place to make sure everyone has equal access to the vaccine.”