Locally, the COVID-19 news is pretty great this week. Case counts are down both county-wide and in our local neighborhoods, and hospitalizations continue to drop, too. Also, LAUSD schools re-open to all grade levels this week, and vaccinations are increasing as well. That said, however, it’s impossible to ignore that surges that are currently raging in other parts of the world, which cast a definite pall over our own local situation.
Running the Numbers
First, however, the local good news…which includes daily new cases in LA County ranging from a low of 337 to a high of 489 over the last seven days (last week’s low and high numbers were 411 and 643), with hospitalizations falling over the week as well.
And while our local neighborhoods had a slight uptick in case rates when we did our weekly report last week, this week’s numbers for our largest local neighborhood areas are all trending down.
The percentage decreases from the previous week’s new case rates were:
Hancock Park: -100%
Miracle Mile: -40%
Wilshire Center: -44%
One interesting thing that has developed over the last year of monitoring the coronavirus’ spread is the number of different ways in which it can be measured. Most of the methods we’ve seen (new cases, percentage of positive tests, hospitalizations, etc.) rely on people suspecting they might be infected and taking some action, such as a test or doctor visit — and because of that behavioral element, they’ll always be at least a bit inaccurate, because they can’t count people who don’t know they’re infected, or who might suspect an infection but aren’t seriously ill and don’t bother to get tested.
But the LA County Sanitation Districts have also entered the reporting game with sewage testing, which might provide an even more accurate statistic about the virus’ spread, because it doesn’t rely exclusively on people making the effort to get tested or diagnosed for its county-wide data. The green line in the chart below shows the concentration of coronavirus in county sewage as of April 22, superimposed over the reported number of cases as of the same date. And while you can see that the reported cases are still trending down, the virus counts taken from sewage actually show a bit of an uptick over the last two weeks, which might add a note of caution to today’s more positive case numbers.
But local sewage isn’t today’s biggest cautionary note. That one – and it’s truly sobering – is this week’s global news, which reports record-setting surges in other countries such as India, Brazil and Germany, with new variants spreading rapidly and vaccines not as plentiful or as available as they are in the U.S. This is an important reminder that no country is an island in this pandemic, and none of us are truly safe until we are all out of danger.
Of course, vaccines are the key to controlling the spread of COVID-19 locally, nationally, and globally, and progress on that front continues in LA County, with close to four million of our approximately 10 million residents having now received at least one vaccination shot, and more than 2.4 million fully vaccinated.
And we can see the progress locally as well, with our local neighborhood vaccination percentages (those who have received at least one shot) up about 8 to 10 percent in this week’s report over where we were two weeks ago (the last time numbers were reported).
With all Angelenos ages 16 and up now eligible for vaccines, the number of vaccination sites and appointments have increased, too. If you or someone you know is still seeking an appointment, you can go to myturn.ca.gov and/or https://www.findmyvaxla.com/ to find a location near you. Also, for the last few days, we’ve been re-tweeting updates from FindMyVax on our Larchmont Buzz Twitter feed, so that’s a handy way to keep track, too. And keep an eye on local social media feeds — we saw one post this weekend about a local-ish drug store with so many unused doses on Saturday, the pharmacist was trolling the store aisles, asking every customer if they wanted a shot (and apparently, he wasn’t getting many takers, even with the bold approach).
Finally on the vaccine front, if you or people you know still have questions about COVID-19 vaccines, especially as use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine resumes, there will be an online town hall meeting on vaccines, sponsored by the LA County Department of Public Health, tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 6 p.m. Questions for the forum can be submitted in advance by clicking here.
Finally, in COVID-related school news this week, there have also been some big developments. First, of course, the biggest news was that LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who has shepherded the district through the last difficult year of pandemic closings, safety upgrades, food distribution programs, testing programs, vaccine clinics, and re-openings, announced that he will step down from his position on June 30. (And this was followed quickly by an announcement that the Los Angeles Board of Education has named Megan Reilly, its current director of business services, as the interim superintendent, who will take over when Beutner leaves and while LAUSD searches for a permanent replacement).
In his weekly address this morning, Beutner thanked the community for its support during his tenure, and said the position has been “the most rewarding job I’ve held during my nearly 40-year career.” He explained, however, that as he considered a possible extension of his contract, offered by the board, he thought about “the shared lessons and significant progress of the past three years,” the admonition of Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell to “leave this world a little bit better than you found it,” and the “renewed trust” that has been built between the district’s schools and their communities…and decided that “it is fitting that a new superintendent should have the privilege of welcoming students back to school in the fall.”
Meanwhile, the other big school milestone this week is the return to campus of LAUSD middle and high school students who have opted for in-person instruction for the rest of the school year, completing the district’s campus re-opening rollout. While the achievement is significant, however, Beuter also acknowledged that for many secondary students, the school day will still be quite different from what it was pre-pandemic, with some “in-person, teacher-led engagement in an advisory period,” and then online classes, lunch, independent study with internet access, and after-school activities such as sports or music.
The continued reliance on online instruction is necessary, Beutner said, because “Secondary students, even in small groups of 12 or 14 people, would still go to 6 or 7 different classes each day and would come in contact with about 250 people. One individual with the virus could potentially pass it on to lots of others. At this time we’re going to err on the side of caution to keep people safe for the few weeks remaining in the semester. And it wouldn’t make any sense to change school schedules this late in the school year.”
Beutner also noted that even with the district’s strict protocols, 105 new cases in LAUSD employees and 196 in students were reported over the last three weeks, with most of them in three specific groups: “high school athletes who’ve been participating in sports since late March, staff currently working at schools and elementary students who are back in schools,” with the largest group being the athletes.
But Beutner said the district’s frequent testing helps identify new cases quickly, and make communication and contract tracing much easier. “Our goal is to keep the virus from spreading in schools,” he said. And “So far, it’s working as no cases of the virus have been linked to each other or further cases at schools.”
The procedure when LAUSD does have a new case, Beutner said, is comprehensive. “For each positive case, all close contacts – meaning those who have been within six feet for 15 minutes or more — are notified to quarantine for 10 days and take a COVID test on the fifth day. Additionally, all other students and staff in that same cohort will receive notification in writing and by phone that there has been a positive case and whether or not they’ve been in close contact. The entire school will be notified of any positive cases as well as the cohort.”
Beutern said testing is a big key to keeping everyone safe, and the district provided its millionth COVID-19 test this past week. “If 90% of the people on a school campus are children who have not been vaccinated,” he said, “the safest thing to do is to test everyone, children and adults, before they start school and regularly thereafter. And that’s exactly what we’re doing at schools in Los Angeles Unified.”
And, of course, he said, vaccinations will be an even bigger help, especially when they become available for younger children.
“It’s simple enough to see the solution – providing vaccinations for families with childrenin schools will help get more children back in schools,” Beutner said. “Four school-based vaccination clinics are now open and 15 additional clinics will openin the next few weeks. We will continue to add more sites as health authorities provideaccess to the vaccine for school-based efforts like ours. This local, school-based approach has already begun helping high-schoolers, who are aged 16-18 and now eligible to be vaccinated.”
“Ninety percent of people on a school campus at any point in time are children,” Beutner said. And “herd immunity won’t be reached at schools or in the broader community until children are vaccinated.”
But he said he hopes that major improvements will be seen on all fronts by by the time school starts again in August.
“Looking ahead, we’ll be able to reduce the number of people students come in contact with throughout the entire day during in-person instruction by adjusting school schedules. This, plus further progress in vaccinations and continued reduction in the spread of the virus, should allow for all-day, in-person instruction when the new school year starts.”