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With 15,000 new case average in L.A. County, testing jumps up

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

“Dying from COVID in the hospital means dying alone” was the stark message from Supervisor Hilda Solis during a news conference Monday as she describe people saying goodbye to loved ones over smartphones and tablets. “Visitors are not allowed in the hospital for their own safety,” she said. “One of the more heartbreaking conversations that our healthcare workers share is about these last words when children apologize to their parents or grandparents for bringing COVID into their homes.”

These stern warnings come as the county continues to be mired in the worst part of the coronavirus surge, with deaths averaging 200 a day, and hospitals on the brink of having to triage care. If our hospitals reach that point, doctors will have to decide who will receive dwindling resources such as life-saving ventilators or the care of trained ICU nurses.

“Every minute on average, 10 people are testing positive for COVID-19 in L.A. County,” Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Monday.

The 15,000 people in the county who test positive on average daily were infectious for two days before symptoms began and were capable of infecting others, according to Ms. Ferrer. A total of 10 to 12 percent of the people who test positive end up hospitalized, and more than one percent die.

“The damaging impact to our families and our local hospitals from this surge...is the worst disaster our county has experienced for decades,” Ms. Ferrer said.

On Wednesday Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all California residents age 65 and older can now get the coronavirus vaccine, which expands the eligible population by about 6 million. This accelerates the previous phased rollout from Phase 1A to Phase 1B. 

“There is no higher priority than efficiently and equitably distributing these vaccines as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences,” Governor Newsom said in a statement.

Los Angeles County Public Health officials said that due to a lack of available doses and staff, they will not be able to make the vaccine available to residents age 65 and older until the county has vaccinated approximately 500,000 frontline healthcare workers, which it expects to accomplish by the end of January. The county will soon be opening five inoculation centers, which will administer up to 4,000 to 5,000 doses per day at each site, seven days a week. Additionally, several private partners will be administering the vaccine, including the Vons Pharmacy on Base Line Road in Claremont. (If you are a interested in receiving the vaccination, and are a frontline healthcare worker, do not call the pharmacy directly, but make an appointment at the county website.)

Supervisor Solis said during Monday’s news conference that the rollout of the vaccine has gone slower than expected in part because the county did not receive the number of doses that had been promised by the federal government. She said her hope was that the pace of vaccination would speed up once the administration of Joe Biden takes over the vaccination process. Governor Newsom said on Wednesday that more help would come from the state to meet the increased demand from the expanded pool of eligible citizens. 

Counties will be opening mass vaccination centers, including one at Dodger Stadium which is scheduled to open Friday. People who want to receive the inoculation need to make appointments through the L.A. County Public Health Department’s website.

Public health is now reporting 1,770 cumulative coronavirus cases in the city of Claremont, with 182 new infections reported in one week. This high number of new cases is an indication that the community spread in Claremont is still quite high and will likely remain so for the next several weeks. 

Deaths are also on the rise, with the county now reporting three more fatalities since Monday, bringing Claremont’s total deaths to 34 as of Wednesday.

Countywide, the health department recorded 14,564 new cases Wednesday and 281 deaths. The county now has 958,497 cumulative cases and 12,995 deaths.

The county is experiencing horrific loss of life due to COVID-19. Over the last seven days, 1,606 people lost their lives—an average of nearly 230 deaths per day, county officials said in a statement.

During Monday’s news conference, public health officials shared a rare piece of good news regarding beleaguered county hospitals. The number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 has leveled off and even dipped slightly from the peak about a week ago. However, there are still 750 to 800 new coronavirus patients admitted each day and the daily hospitalization rate remains at 8,000. Additionally, hospitals continue to face staffing shortages and limited oxygen supplies.  

Another bit of good news, the positivity rate, which measures the number of tests that come back positive for the virus, has declined from a peak last Monday of 20.6 percent to 17.5 percent on Sunday. 

Due to the severity of the community spread in the county, masks are now recommended inside one’s own home if a resident of the house is considered high risk for serious COVID-19 illness. This is particularly important if any member of the household must leave on a regular basis for work or is otherwise in frequent contact with people outside the home. 

An institutional outbreak at the Claremont Care Center, just outside the city’s border in Pomona, has reached a critical state with 34 staff members and 64 residents testing positive, and six deaths. Meanwhile, the care facility that recorded Claremont’s first institutional cases, Country Villa Claremont, has reported a new outbreak involving 17 staff and 15 residents testing positive. 

Other local institutional outbreaks include ANM Aurora Care home with 12 staff and four residents testing positive; California Mentor Rosemont Home with four staff and one resident; Claremont Manor with 25 staff and five residents; Claremont Place with 15 staff, 14 residents and one death; Easter Seals Victoria Home, four staff, two residents and one death; Genesis Manor 5 with two staff and three residents; Pilgrim Place assisted living, 16 staff and 13 residents; Pilgrim Place Health Services, 12 staff and three residents; and Sunrise of Claremont, eight staff and one resident.

Non-residential institutional outbreaks in Claremont are also on the rise with HiRel Connectors reporting 40 cases among employees across three locations, Synedgen with three cases and Comfort Keepers Home Care with three staff.

On January 9, health officials issued a citation for lack of compliance with the health order to Aruffos restaurant, Dog Haus Biergarten and as B. C. Café on December 26. Slick Threading & Waxing Salon received a citation on January 8. Several other Claremont restaurants were given similar citations earlier in December.

L.A. County Department of Health Services has discontinued using the Curative COVID-19 PCR test at county-supported testing sites after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert about the possibility of false negative results.

Curative provided 24,241 tests at county-supported “pop-up” testing sites between December 13, 2020 and January 2, 2021, according to a news release from DHS. That amounts to approximately 10 percent of all coronavirus tests administered by the county.

“All COVID-19 tests have a risk of false negative results, which means that you may test negative when you actually have COVID-19,” DHS officials said. “There is no reliable way to detect early infection, meaning that infection often spreads before symptoms develop. Nevertheless, PCR tests, including the Curative test, remain better at detecting disease than other tests, including rapid tests.”

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