Virus retreat provides some hope, but vaccine still in short supply

by Steven Felschundneff |

The local outbreak of the coronavirus continues to be a mixed bag, with optimistic news about falling case numbers and hospitalizations tempered by the daily frustrations many in our community report when trying to obtain the vaccination.

“We continue to see promising signs of recovery from our winter surge with our data from last week. Cases, hospitalizations and positive test rates continue to decline,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said during a news conference Monday.

However, Supervisor Solis warned that recent progress can easily be undone by the new coronavirus variants that are easier to transmit. “It takes less than 15 minutes of exposure to a person with COVID for someone to get sick,” she said.

Those frustrated by their inability to make a vaccine appointment are not alone as a limited supply of doses continues to plague the distribution system countywide. Due to the supply limitations, the county is focusing on ensuring that people who have already received one dose are guaranteed to get the second shot, which further limits the opportunity for new people to become vaccinated. But hope is on the horizon.

This week Supervisor Solis announced that by February 16 a new federal community vaccination center will be up and running at Cal State Los Angeles, which is in one of the hardest hit areas in the county.

“With that [new center] our vaccination supply and capacity will be improved,” she said. “While we wait for more people to be vaccinated, the tools we have been using are still effective, and absolutely necessary in slowing and preventing the spread of the virus.”

“This is an unprecedented effort and every day hope arrives for a family when a parent or a nurse or a grandparent is vaccinated,” Supervisor Solis said.

Here in Claremont, one group of vulnerable residents can relax a little after receiving the vaccine during a one-day clinic at Claremont Place retirement home on San Jose Avenue.

A team of pharmacists from CVS set up the mobile clinic in one of the senior home’s meeting rooms and, one-by-one, the residents walked over from their residences or were wheeled in by staff.

A total of 90 people, including 68 residents, were vaccinated during the clinic, which took place last Thursday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The pharmacists administered the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as part of the U.S. Government’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program.

Dan Baker, 97, was one of the first residents to receive the inoculation. He was having a small snack in the lunchroom while staff monitored residents to make sure no one had a negative reaction to the vaccine. 

He told the COURIER he was very happy to get the vaccine and was pleased that the clinic had been set up at Claremont Place.

“I feel good about it,” he said. “I was afraid that because I am 97 it would be too risky for me to get the vaccine. But I wanted it and my daughters wanted me to get it too.”

“This was a big day for us,” Executive Director Nicole Vazquez said. “I think the residents are hopeful that the vaccine will allow us to open up again and they can see their families.”

The health department is now reporting 2,160 cumulative cases in Claremont and 52 new infections in the last week. This reflects a similar trajectory to the daily case rate countywide, with new cases in Claremont down 42 percent. Tragically, another two Claremont residents have died, bringing the city’s total to 49.

On Wednesday the county reported 3,434 new COVID-19 cases and 141 deaths. The county’s cumulative case count now stands at 1,155,309 with 18,500 deaths.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county continues to make progress in the daily number of new cases of COVID-19, with the seven-day average dropping by 77 percent since the peak around January 8 when there were more than 15,000 daily cases. However, she made clear the current number is still far higher than before the surge began in November.

The county reached a peak of over 8,000 daily hospitalizations at the beginning of January, but as of Wednesday 3,973 people were hospitalized, a 42 percent decline. Deaths peaked in early January at more that 220 per day. As of January 31, the number dropped by 45 percent and continues to fall.

“It’s encouraging to see these numbers go down and we are grateful to everyone whose actions are making this possible. However, our hospitals are still very crowded and they still have limited ICU capacity,” Ms. Ferrer said. “We hope this trend continues and that we can reduce our daily case rates enough to allow elementary schools to meet the state threshold for reopening.”

There are now 340 vaccination sites in the county, ranging from the mega sites, such as the one at the Pomona Fairplex, to local pharmacies and federally qualified health clinics. The goal is to have vaccination sites throughout the county in an effort to bring the inoculation to the people and reduce the inequity in distribution, according to Supervisor Solis.

“Even though vaccination rates are improving, we must ensure that health equity is always at the forefront,” she said. “There are some problems we still need to address such as transportation assistance for those who do not own a car.”

She said the county will be joining forces with local transit agencies, and using the county’s own bus system to ensure that lack of transportation will not prevent people from getting the vaccination.

Furthermore, both the county and federal government are deploying mobile vaccination teams that will visit low income senior housing, government run housing, homeless encampments and other places where people are not able to easily access transportation. The goal is for these teams to be a model that can be “scaled up” to reach more people countywide.

“Equity is not just a buzzword it must be a central tenet to how we make policy and deliver our services,” Supervisor Solis said. “The pandemic did not impact everyone equally but we must continue to repeat that.”


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