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Rep. Karen Bass, a Physician Assistant during the AIDS crisis, talks about the coronavirus

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Rep. Karen Bass is a fighting social justice community activist at heart. She’s no stranger to adversity, founding the Community Coalition in the late 1980s to fight the crack cocaine epidemic in South LA and the dire conditions that fed it, to being elected the first African American woman Speaker of the California Assembly in 2008/2009 during a significant fiscal crisis, for which she was honored by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library with the 2010 Profile in Courage Award. Now she serves as Chair of the important Black Congressional Caucus dealing with the Trump administration.

But it’s the knowledge she gained as a Physician Assistant and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program that is most pertinent now as she and her congressional colleagues fight to keep the coronavirus from killing thousands and destroying the American healthcare system and economy.

Bass has become known for her series of constituent town halls with one Tuesday night on coronavirus. She also has provided a lot of information about COVID-19 on her website.

Bass’ 37th Congressional District includes the Black gay wellness organization, In The Meantime Men where she has met with founding director Jeffrey King and ITMTM members. King talked to the Los Angeles Blade about the need for coronavirus testing kits to be provided to community-based organizations that provide care for people who are HIV positive.

But in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Blade, Bass says the response to the outbreak has been so bad, frontline community organizations will probably be the last to get the kits.

“We are so unfortunate because we’re so late. The administration knew about this virus months ago and unfortunately, we are not prepared,” Bass says. “We are not prepared with testing kits and I doubt very seriously that there will be any time soon that we will get testing kits to the level of community health centers. I think a lot of the testing kits that are being sent out now are hospital-based and are basically for people who are symptomatic. It is not for people without symptoms.”

That said, Bass agrees “150%” that testing kits should be made available,  “especially to high-risk populations who might be immune compromised and folks with HIV by definition are immune compromised. And so folks with diseases, underlying problems, need to be the first ones that the test is provided to. But if you’re not without symptoms, I don’t see there being a possibility of being administered a test, even if you went to the hospital.”

The problem has been exacerbated by flu season, which produces similar symptoms such as a fever, difficulty breathing and a dry cough.  But COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on March 11.

“I mean people always say, ‘Well, the flu does this, the flu does that,’” Fauci said. “The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That’s the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this.”

Part of the reasoning behind not testing people with flu-like symptoms is the fear of overwhelming the unprepared hospital system. And there was more dire news on Tuesday as the LA Times reported that people without symptoms could be infected “silent carriers.”

“’Stealth transmission’” is not only real but a ‘major driver’ of the epidemic, Columbia University infectious diseases researcher Jeffrey Shaman, who led the study published Monday in the journal Science,” told the LA Times. “Its contribution to the virus’ spread ‘is substantially undetected, and it’s flying below the radar.’”

Meanwhile, this is spring break, a time when young people who think they are “invincible” frolic in parks, beaches, and parties, ignoring the CDC recommendation about “social distancing.”

“I think that we are all going through a learning process and it is tough, especially if you’re talking about people who are healthy,” Bass says. “They’re not feeling symptomatic and that they could be the ones that pass on the virus. I think we are all in an educational process.”

Bass underscores just how new the virus is. “I’m certainly in an educational process and I have a medical background and I went through the AIDS crisis also from its very beginning. I watched all of Santa Monica Boulevard get wiped out near Vermont. That whole area there. I watched everybody die within a matter of two years.

“But I think that this is really hard because you don’t have to have any physical contact,” she continues. “It’s one thing if you tell people not to have physical contact — you don’t have physical contact for this. You could just be in a room with somebody. So, I think that it’s important that we all educate ourselves. And so my role is to do that. But I feel like we’re all going through this together.”

Bass says she is advising people “to follow what is coming out of the Center for Disease Control: to stay in, to order in, to not be in crowds. We’re just trying to share the advice, but we’re also trying to explain the reason why. And I think the reason why is not very clear. Like you tell people to shelter in home for how long? For a week, a month, a year? And that’s what’s leading to the panic because people don’t know.”

Rep. Karen Bass with LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin, Rep. Ted Lieu and LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl at an event sponsored by activist Torie Osborn before the coronavirus exploded (Photo courtesy Osborn) 

There is also confusion around the end date, too. As of Tuesday morning, the date was the end or March or by April 4. But the mayor of New York City, which is essentially on lock down, says fighting the coronavirus may last throughout the summer.

Bass also wants to emphasize that everyone is on this journey together. “People are building the plane while it’s flying. In other words, this is a new virus. And so what is the best way, how long does it live on a surface, how close in contact should you be? All of this is a learning curve for all of us, including the scientific community. The medical community are trying to figure it out too,” Bass says. “That’s why you have medical folks getting sick. Just like you did with the AIDS virus until we learned that a finger stick could cause transmission. People never wore gloves when I was trained to draw blood, we were never trained on gloves. Those were changes that had to be made as we learned the character, the nature of the HIV virus.”

Bass is also concerned about all the misinformation, and the intentional harm being perpetrated on the internet.

“People should only get test kits from medical professionals. You can’t get test kits on the internet, for example, because there’s fake test kits — and people shouldn’t be testing themselves anyway. I don’t know how or why they would do that. But anytime you have something like this, you have bottom feeders who try to make money off of it. And part of doing that is claiming that they have access to tests that they don’t.”

As for test kits getting to organizations like In The Meantime Men, Bass was blunt.

“I don’t think they’re going to get test kits anytime soon. I think they’re trying to deal with hospitals right now. The problem is — they knew this was coming and they didn’t do anything about it. You remember it took a movement for HIV to be dealt with. It took a literal social justice movement.

“But that was obviously different,” she says. “I mean that was in a stigmatized population. And it wasn’t until it crossed over that people began to take it seriously. And then once it crossed over again, the people of color, then people stopped taking it seriously. So, this is very different because this impacts everybody.”

But, she added, getting testing in communities of color and poor communities, “I think the last place that they’re going to go is to community-based organizations. And obviously our community, inner city communities, rely more on the community-based organizations than they do the big hospitals.”

Her advice is for a community-based organization to be connected to their largest facility “so that they can refer people.”

In the end, Bass comes back to community. “We all have to stand together through this, and we need to educate ourselves,” she says. “We can’t assume this is like anything we’ve seen before.”

Bass’ coronavirus webpage is a very good source of collected information:

“For updated information from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health about this outbreak, please visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/ or call 211. Please note that many people are likely to call 211 so be prepared for increased wait times and remember that this is not a hotline reserved for the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.”

 

Culver City staff continue to receive updates from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and participate in planning regarding the novel (new) coronavirus. To learn the latest community information about COVID-19, including facility closures and event cancellations in Culver City, click here: https://www.culvercity.org/live/public-safety/emergency-preparedness/current-disaster-information

 

Here is what you need to know to protect yourself and your loved ones:

 

What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

 

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Coronaviruses are common, and they include the common cold, but COVID-19 is a new strain.

 

What are the symptoms and how does it spread?

 

The most common symptoms include fever, cough and increasingly severe respiratory symptoms (trouble breathing). Our experience to date is that most people who are exposed to the virus, more than 80%, have mild or no symptoms. Some people, however, may have more complicated symptoms, including pneumonia or lung inflammation.

 

For confirmed COVID-19 cases, reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Current research suggests that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

 

Am I at risk of contracting COVID-19?

 

It is important to know that the risk of COVID-19 to the general public in the United States continues to remain low and efforts are being undertaken to keep it that way. With that said, public health officials believe the situation will get worse. How much worse, depends not only on the response of local, state and federal public health officials, but on the public at large.

 

As mentioned above, some people are more at-risk of severe health effects from COVID-19.  This includes but is not limited to those over 60 years of age, with growing risk as age increases; people with respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema; people with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes; and those who are immune-compromised, such as people in cancer treatment or with HIV/AIDS.

 

How can I help protect myself, my family, and my community?

 

Every person has a role to play in protecting themselves and helping prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here’s what you can do:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, & mouth
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw tissue in the trash
  • Use a regular household cleaning spray/wipe to clean & disinfect frequently touched objects & surfaces
  • Wash your hands often with soap & water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing

Have there been cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.?

 

Yes. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. Updated information on the number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States is available here.

 

Are there cases of COVID-19 in California?

 

Yes. The State of California now has the authority and ability to test individuals, and is receiving additional test kits, as requested. Updated information is available here.

 

Are there people with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County?

 

Yes. For the most up to date information regarding cases, visit the Los Angeles County Public Health Department’s website here.

 

What is Congress doing?

 

The House of Representatives passed an $8.3 billion spending measure that has been signed into law to fund the federal government’s response to the coronavirus and to assist state and local governments. Further action and legislation is expected.

 

I am a health professional.  Where do I find resources for how to treat my patients and where to report cases? 

 

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department has resources specifically for doctors, nurses and other health professionals, including Identifying and Managing Suspect Patients; Testing, Reporting, Infection Prevention, and specific guidance for care facilities, located here.  Health care professionals can also sign up for the LA County Health Alert Network (LAHAN) here.

 

Information for Workers

 

Sick or Quarantined

 

In California, if you need to access paid family, medical, or sick leave you should visit or contact the State of California’s Employment Development Department at edd.ca.gov or call 1-877-238-4373 to contact a Paid Family Leave representative.

 

If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. For guidance on the disease, visit the California Department of Public Health website.

 

You can find more information from the Employment Development Department of California about disability or paid family leave benefits along with information about unemployment insurance benefits here: https://edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019/faqs.htm

 

Caregiving 

 

If you’re unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.

 

Reduced Work Hours 

 

If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.

 

Information for Employers

 

Workplace Health and Safety 

 

For information on protecting workers from COVID-19, refer to the Cal/OSHA Guidance on Coronavirus. Businesses and employers can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for help with planning and responding to COVID-19.

 

Reduced Work Hours

 

Employers experiencing a slowdown in their businesses or services as a result of the coronavirus impact on the economy may apply for the UI Work Sharing Program. This program allows employers to seek an alternative to layoffs — retaining their trained employees by reducing their hours and wages that can be partially offset with UI benefits. Workers of employers who are approved to participate in the Work Sharing Program receive the percentage of their weekly UI benefit amount based on the percentage of hours and wages reduced, not to exceed 60 percent.

 

Visit Work Sharing Program to learn more about its benefits for employers and employees, and how to apply.

 

Potential Closure or Layoffs 

 

Employers planning a closure or major layoffs as a result of the coronavirus can get help through the Rapid Response program. Rapid Response teams will meet with you to discuss your needs, help avert potential layoffs, and provide immediate on-site services to assist workers facing job losses. For more information, refer to the Rapid Response Services for Businesses Fact Sheet (DE 87144RRB) (PDF) or contact your local America’s Job Center of California.

 

Information Regarding Tax Assistance

 

Employers experiencing a hardship as a result of COVID-19 may request up to a 60-day extension of time from the EDD to file their state payroll reports and/or deposit state payroll taxes without penalty or interest. A written request for extension must be received within 60 days from the original delinquent date of the payment or return.

 

For questions, employers may call the EDD Taxpayer Assistance Center.

  • Toll-free from the U.S. or Canada: 1-888-745-3886
  • Hearing impaired (TTY): 1-800-547-9565
  • Outside the U.S. or Canada: 1-916-464-3502

Information for Parents of LAUSD Students

Los Angeles Unified, in partnership with the Red Cross, will continue to provide nutritious meals to all students who need them during the temporary closure of schools. Our Grab & Go Food Centers will be open beginning Wednesday, March 18, and will be staffed weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. To find the closest Grab & Go Food Center, see the map below or check the list of centers on this page: https://achieve.lausd.net/resources

###

 

This is an evolving situation. For updated information about this outbreak, please visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/ or call 211. Please note that many people are likely to call 211 so be prepared for increased wait times and remember that this is not a hotline reserved for the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

 

 

Coronavirus

CDC eases indoor mask guidance for fully vaccinated people

L.A. won’t immediately follow CDC’s relaxed mask rules

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CDC Headquarters in Atlanta, GA (Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) issued new guidance Thursday that eases mask wearing indoors for fully vaccinated people in most instances except for extremely crowded circumstances.

The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues — even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated, the Associated Press reported.

“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC.

President Joe Biden reflecting on the new CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people can go without masks said; “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day.” The President credited the full-court press by officials to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible in a short period of time as a contributing factor. Biden noted that as of Thursday, the U.S. has administered 250 million shots in 114 days.

He added, “The American people have never ever ever let their country down.”
Biden also stressed: “If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.” and then he also said if you see someone wearing a mask, “please treat them with kindness and respect.”

Walensky announced the new guidance on Thursday afternoon at a White House briefing, crediting the change to millions of Americans who are getting vaccinated. She added that the CDC changes reflected on the latest science about how well the vaccines are working preventing further spread of the cornavirus.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities -– large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

There are some caveats the Associated Press noted pointing out the CDC Director encouraged people who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That’s because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones.

Los Angeles County officials said Thursday the latest guidance from federal officials allowing fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most places will not be effective in California immediately. The state and county will review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations in order to “make sensible adjustments to the orders that are currently in place,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s mask-wearing requirements at businesses – including restaurants and supermarkets – remain in effect, and it could be a week or more before substantive changes to mask-wearing orders are implemented locally.

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LA County to offer vaccinations for 12-15 year old kids Thursday

The American Academy of Pediatrics urged that kids 12 and older get the Pfizer vaccine

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LOS ANGELES – Starting on Thursday the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will begin offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a two-shot regimen at the vaccine sites run by L.A. County that offer the Pfizer vaccine, for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Pfizer’s vaccine has been used for months in people 16 and older, and earlier this week the Food and Drug Administration cleared its use for those as young as age 12.  The CDC advisory panel on Wednesday noted that it affirmed the recommendation by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this week.

The Associated Press reported that the CDC until now has recommended not getting other vaccinations within two weeks of a COVID-19 shot, mostly as a precaution so that safety monitors could spot if any unexpected side effects cropped up.

But the CDC said Wednesday it is changing that advice because the COVID-19 vaccines have proved very safe — and that health workers can decide to give another needed vaccine at the same time for people of any age.

“The need for catch-up vaccination in coordination with COVID-19 vaccination is urgent as we plan for safe return to school,” CDC’s Dr. Kate Woodworth told the panel, citing millions of missed doses of vaccines against tetanus, whooping cough and other health threats.

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Wednesday also urged that kids 12 and older get the Pfizer vaccine — and agreed that it’s fine to give more than one vaccine at the same time, especially for kids who are behind on their regular vaccinations.

“With the CDC approval today, affirming the FDA recommendation, L.A. County will begin vaccinating youth 12 to 15 with the Pfizer vaccine tomorrow. We are grateful to the scientists, clinicians, and the young people who participated in clinical trials that helped the FDA and the CDC determine that these vaccines are safe and effective for this age group,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the most powerful tool available to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.  Increasing the number of people vaccinated speeds up our recovery journey and allows us to safely participate in the summer activities we all love and miss,” she added.

Anyone younger than 18 should be accompanied by a parent, guardian or responsible adult, and present photo identification and verification of age, county public health officials said. Parents or teens with questions about the vaccine should contact their healthcare provider or visit the Public Health website for more information on vaccine safety and efficacy.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner offered answers to questions regarding the vaccine shots for 12-15 year olds during a call with reporters:

ARE THE SHOTS THE SAME AS THOSE FOR ADULTS?

Yes. The dose and the schedule are the same; the two shots are given three weeks apart.

WHERE CAN KIDS GET THE SHOTS?

Pharmacies, state sites and other places that are already vaccinating people 16 and older with the Pfizer vaccine should be able to give the shots to all authorized ages in most cases.

WILL KIDS NEED A GUARDIAN?

Parental consent will be needed, but exactly how it’s obtained could vary.

HOW WAS THE VACCINE VETTED FOR KIDS?

Pfizer’s late-stage vaccine study tested the safety and efficacy of the shots in about 44,000 people 16 and older. The study then enlisted about 2,200 children ages 12 to 15 to check for any differences in how the shots performed in that age group.

“This is just extending it down from 16 and 17 year olds, and getting further information,” Woodcock said.

WHY ONLY THE PFIZER VACCINE?

Because only Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, has completed studies in younger teens. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects, but regulators still need to review the results before it can be offered to younger people.

WHAT SIDE EFFECTS ARE EXPECTED?

Common side effects were similar to those experienced by adults, and included fatigue, headache, muscle pain and fever. Except for pain in the arm where the needle is injected, the effects were likelier after the second shot.

CAN KIDS GET OTHER ROUTINE VACCINATIONS AT THE SAME TIME?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s updating its guidance to say other routine vaccinations can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 shots. It previously advised against other vaccinations within a two-week window so it could monitor people for potential side effects.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said it agrees with the position.

WHEN WILL YOUNGER KIDS BE ELIGIBLE?

It’s unclear how long the ongoing trials or regulatory reviews will take. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, recently suggested it could happen this year.

“We think by the time we get to the end of this year we will have enough information to vaccinate children of any age,” he said.

WHY SHOULD KIDS GET VACCINATED?

Even though children are far less likely to get severely ill if infected, health officials note the risk isn’t zero.

Vaccinating children is also key to ending the pandemic, since children can get infected and spread the virus to others, even if they don’t get sick themselves.

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LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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