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LA masks up as hyper-contagious Delta variant surges at warp speed

“The extreme vulnerability of people who are not vaccinated, which will account for infections, hospitalizations, and, ultimately, deaths”

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The County of Los Angeles is now positioned on the front lines of the national battle to contain the hyper-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. As cases and numbers explode in the United States, the decision by the County’s health officials to order residents to mask-up even if fully vaccinated indoors may prove to be the national blueprint for combatting transmission of the disease.

The Health Department’s new order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday everywhere in Los Angeles County, except Pasadena. (Pasadena and Long Beach have their own health departments; Long Beach followed L.A. County with its own mask order, but Pasadena still only recommends everyone mask up.)

Nearly two weeks after the Fourth of July holiday and one month after the June 15 reopening, transmission of COVID-19 in L.A. County has rapidly increased to very concerning levels. This is due to the presence of the more infectious Delta variant and the intermingling of unmasked individuals where vaccination status is unknown. 

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 1,827 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday afternoon; a four-fold increase from the 457 cases seen on July 4 and an eight-fold increase from the 210 cases seen on June 15.

Saturday’s daily test positivity rate is 3.7%.  On July 4, test positivity was near 1.5% and June 15, test positivity was near 0.5%.

Not every official however is onboard, on Friday Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, publicly announced; “Forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted COVID-19 to wear masks indoors is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.”

The Sheriff went on to add, “The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) has authority to enforce the order, but the underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance.  We encourage the DPH to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors and law enforcement to establish mandates that are both achievable and supported by science.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex-Villanueva with wife Vivian
(Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

The Sheriff’s announcement prompted reaction from West Hollywood City Mayor Lindsey Horvath who tweeted, “Last I checked, he’s not a scientist, nor is he a medical or healthcare professional. Let’s leave those decisions to the experts while we all do our part to take care of each other & get through this thing together.”

On Friday during the regularly scheduled White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials briefing Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters;

“CDC reported more than 33,000 new cases of COVID-19. [Thursday]  Our seven-day average is about 26,300 cases per day, and this represents an increase of nearly 70 percent from the prior seven-day average, she said. “There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.  We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk.  And communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well,” she added.

The CDC head also noted “the good news is that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe COVID, hospitalization, and death, and are even protected against the known variants — including the Delta variant — circulating in the country” But she cautioned, “If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk.  And our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations, and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”

The chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the briefing; “We are dealing with a formidable variant in the Delta variant, as reflected by the data that Dr. Walensky told you, and the extreme vulnerability of people who are not vaccinated, which will account for infections, hospitalizations, and, ultimately, deaths.
 
And so the message loud and clear that we need to reiterate is that these vaccines continue to strong protection against SARS-CoV-2, including the Delta variant.  And so — why it’s so important for yourself, your family, and your community to get vaccinated.”

Biden administration officials in the effort to get the remaining population vaccinated are also combating misinformation about the vaccines and COVID-19 spread even among those fully vaccinated in what the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Hallegere Murthy warned is “a serious threat to public health,” as the Biden administration grows increasingly concerned about misleading claims about coronavirus vaccines.

The President addressed those concerns in a question posed as he was departing the White House Friday afternoon. When asked by NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Peter Alexander, “What’s your message to platforms like Facebook regarding COVID misinformation?” The president responded saying “They’re killing people.”

“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” he added.

A spokesperson for Facebook angrily deflected the President’s remarks in a media statement saying in part, “More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”

U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy (Screenshot via C-SPAN)

Indirectly taking aim at social media giant Facebook, the Surgeon General had told reporters Thursday, “Now, health misinformation didn’t start with COVID-19. What’s different now though is the speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading. Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation — what we call “disinformation” — to have extraordinary reach,” he said.
 
“They’ve designed product features, such as “Like” buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally-charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation,” Murthy added.

In a series of phone calls, public health officials at local, state, and federal levels told the Blade that with the onslaught of the Delta variant, Americans need to be more vigilant- especially as Americans are traveling more and headed out to favored holiday or even local activities.

An official for the CDC, who is knowledgeable but not authorized to speak publicly, acknowledged that there seemed to be a generalized perception that a person being fully vaccinated is immune which is worrisome as the official reiterated Dr. Fauci’s public statement Friday that the bottom line continues to be very simple: “While fully vaccinated individuals have a high degree of protection against serious illness from COVID-19, including the Delta variant.” The official went on to note that a fully vaccinated person can be infected asymptomatic and be a source of transmission especially the Delta variant.

When asked about the health order in Los Angeles to order masks indoors even if fully vaccinated the CDC official said that erring on the side of caution in the face of the lightening spread of the Delta variant was not only prudent but would ultimately save lives.

As LA County prepares to have Angelenos mask-up again, debate also peppers discussions on social media and elsewhere over the issue of breakthrough COVID-19 cases. The CDC defines breakthrough to any presumed infection by SARS-CoV-2 (that is, any positive coronavirus test) if it’s detected more than two weeks after someone receives the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Media reports on a series of breakthrough COVID-19 cases in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular Cape Cod holiday destination especially in the LGBTQ community, suggests that the CDC and health department’s information on degree of illness experienced being milder than would be the case if unvaccinated, is backed by the science and data.

According to a spokesperson for the Barnstable County Department of Health, which covers all of the Cape including Provincetown, there have been breakthrough documented cases among residents, especially on the Provincetown island. In a statement released earlier in the week health department officials noted;

Cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Provincetown, in consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The positive cases were identified in individuals presenting with mild respiratory symptoms and were tested for COVID-19.

Overwhelmingly, the affected individuals have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The moderate intensity of symptoms indicates that the vaccines are working as predicted. Provincetown has among the highest vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, with 114% of the eligible population age 12 and older in Provincetown having been fully vaccinated.

Health officials expect to continue to see a low level of positive cases through the summer in a community such as Provincetown with a seasonal population of approximately 60,000. As we enter a new phase of living with the virus, vaccination remains our strongest defense in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.”

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a specialist in infectious diseases, explained that while breakthrough cases are going to occur, all cases would be decreased if everyone just got the vaccine already.

Perhaps most important, mini outbreaks like this one do nothing to dent the clear reality that the vaccines are safe and effective.

“These people somehow believe that COVID is going to magically disappear,” he told The Daily Beast. “We are going to be having COVID cases ten years from now. And breakthrough cases will occur no matter what.”

Los Angeles entrepreneurial executive Brian Pendleton, a private pilot, had flown his plane to the Cape to spend the July 4 holiday weekend at Provincetown along with his partner. Halfway through his holiday there he experienced symptoms including headaches, congestions, he told the Blade this week. Upon returning to Los Angeles he was tested for COVID-19 and initially received a negative result. But he says after a PCR test he was tested positive.

Courtesy of Brian Pendleton

Pendleton said that his partner also tested positive and later discovered that his partner’s 70 something parents had also tested positive. All of them have been vaccinated for the disease, Pendleton noting that he received his second dose of Moderna at LA’s mass vaccination site at Dodger stadium in April.

Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis acknowledged that a percentage of vaccinated people will be affected by that the numbers are miniscule in comparison to those who remain unvaccinated and are at much greater exposure to hospitalization and dying from the disease.

Speaking about the new mask mandate, Davis said that it applies to everyone, including vaccinated people. That’s because he and other public health officials want to make masking a universal practice, to ensure everyone who needs to is doing it.

“I don’t think in general that self-attestation is actually good and there may be some people who are unvaccinated and don’t want to make that known,” Davis said in announcing the revised rules Thursday. “That just puts others at risk.”

Groups who are exempt from the rules remain unchanged from earlier in the pandemic: children under 2 and anyone who can’t safely wear a mask.

The main push now Davis and other officials are urging, is to get as many Angelenos vaccinated as possible. As of this week, 61% of county residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and more than 5 million people total.

Officials want to achieve a vaccination rate of at least 80% to reach herd immunity, which means even unvaccinated people are protected from the virus’ uncontrolled spread. The date the county is expected to get to that number has been repeatedly pushed back, and now it’s not expected to come before fall.

“We continue to see fewer folks than we’d like to see getting their first dose of vaccine, week to week,” Davis said. “As there is currently substantial community transmission of COVID-19 here in L.A. County and in our nation, that urgency to get more people vaccinated remains high.”

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Los Angeles

Reminder: 101 closed through DTLA until 10pm Sunday

The closure began at 10 p.m. Saturday and will be completed by 10 p.m. Sunday, the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering announced

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – (KTLA) Motorists are being reminded that the stretch of 101 through the downtown area of Los Angeles is shut down for road restoration and reconstruction work.

KTLA reported the closure began at 10 p.m. Saturday and will be completed by 10 p.m. Sunday, the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering announced.

The 24-hour closure between State Route 60 and the 10 Freeway interchange is needed for the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project, which aims to replace the original, seismically-deficient structure built in 1932, authorities said.

During the closure, the California Department of Transportation will also be doing slab replacement work along the same stretch of the 101 Freeway.

The closure will center around the east side of the viaduct construction site in Boyle Heights. While the stretch is closed, drivers headed west on State Route 60 from the Pomona area will not be able to access the 101, officials said.

Off-ramps and on-ramps in the area will also be closed during as road work gets underway.

Drivers who reach the closure will see signs directing them to a detour.

(The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering)

The new $588 million viaduct is expected to be completed in Summer of 2022, stretching between Boyle Heights and the Arts District.

Officials say it is the largest bridge project in the history of Los Angeles.

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Los Angeles

LA-DWP & Mayor Garcetti announce new outdoor watering restrictions

Sprinkler watering will be allowed Monday & Friday at odd-numbered addresses in the city, and even-numbered addresses on Thursday & Sunday

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City of Los Angeles (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – In a press conference Tuesday Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and officials from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) announced that outdoor watering in the city will be restricted to two days a week starting June 1.

The announcement comes as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California declared an unprecedented water shortage emergency two weeks ago, imposing restrictions after MWD’s board voted to adopt the emergency measures to “reduce non-essential water use” in certain areas. Cities and smaller water suppliers that get water from MWD are required to start restricting outdoor watering to one day a week, or to find other ways to cut usage to a new monthly allocation limit.

LADWP

In Tuesday’s press conference Mayor Garcetti said L.A.’s two-day limit was still more lenient than the one imposed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has ordered many of its member agencies to restrict outdoor watering to once a week.

Sprinkler watering will be allowed on Monday and Friday at odd-numbered addresses in the city, and even-numbered addresses on Thursday and Sunday.

For more information visit the LADWP webpage here.

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Los Angeles

Hollywood residents angered over Sunset Blvd. homeless encampment

Many residents are frustrated over the increasing daily criminal activity that has plagued the area, including vehicle break-ins

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Screenshot via KABC 7

HOLLYWOOD – For those who live in the Hollywood neighborhood that surrounds the homeless encampment on Sunset Boulevard at Martel Avenue, the last seventeen months have been aggravating.

Many residents are frustrated over the increasing daily criminal activity that has plagued the area, including vehicle break-ins which at times has resulted in multiple break-ins on the same vehicles.

“We’ve had tons of break-ins. Our garage has been broken into five times. Cars are vandalized. Mail is stolen,” local resident Lawrence S., who lives near the encampment, told KABC 7. “Our building, the building across the street, the building across the street that way — there’s just rampant crime.

“I actually had my sister in-law come to visit for the first time and she parked across the street in broad daylight and within 30 seconds, someone from the homeless encampment was down swinging a club at her. The violence is escalating and we keep asking the City Council, what is it going to take? Do we need to wait till someone’s murdered?”

The encampment is located at 7323 Sunset Blvd. and surrounds an AT&T building. It’s located in L.A. City Councilwoman Nithya Raman’s district who toured the encampment in 2021, joined by residents, including Terry S.

“She promised. She said that she would be adamantly enforcing ADA compliance. That she’s looking into setting up a safe camping location for the campers. Never happened,” Terry S. told KABC 7.

“In August, 41.18, an ordinance, passed and we were very hopeful because finally we thought that they would have some tools at their disposal,” Lawrence S. said. “But the city councilwoman is only enforcing a part of that ordinance, which is the Care Plus Cleanup program. However, she’s only doing it when she feels like enforcing it, which is three times in 17 months.”

Residents say that the city’s efforts to clean up and clear out the encampment only results in the homeless displaced for a couple of days sometimes less and then they return to reestablish the encampment. This past Thursday the city again clean and cleared the encampment.

While an KABC 7 camera and reporter Josh Haskell were working on the story homeless people were in the background reestablishing their presence across the street.

KABC 7 reached out to Councilwoman Nithya Raman whose office responded with a media statement:

“This encampment is a priority for our office, and our Homelessness Team has been consistently bringing services and working with the individuals living at this location. LAHSA outreach teams most recently identified seven people living here and together we worked to move three of them into shelter just yesterday as part of our Encampment-to-Home project, which has already moved 43 people in Hollywood indoors. Additionally, a cleanup took place at this location yesterday and we are working to move the remaining individuals into shelter as soon as beds become available. We are in continued communication with the residents in the neighborhood regarding the status of our progress as we move forward.”

Residents upset with LA City Councilwoman Nithya Raman over Sunset Boulevard homeless encampment:

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