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LA County ends COVID-19 emergency

Los Angeles County officially ends its declaration of a COVID-19 emergency on Friday, a milestone that comes as the region’s rate of coronavirus cases fell to its lowest level since the summer of 2021.

It’s perhaps fitting that the nation’s most populous county delayed lifting its local declaration, doing so a month after the state. LA County was one of the hardest hit areas in California — so much so that the National Guard had to transport dead bodies from overwhelmed hospital morgues during the first winter of the pandemic. Officials also led the nation to sound the alarm over the danger posed by the Delta variant, which fueled a significant surge the following summer.

But LA County health officials, like their counterparts across the state, say the local declaration has served its purpose and the region is now poised to enter a promising new phase.

“While it remains essential to continue to control the spread of COVID-19 in our homes, workplaces and communities, we no longer need to rely on emergency orders to ensure we have and can use life-saving tools and mitigation strategies,” Public Health said. Director Barbara Ferrer said this month. “Investments to date have resulted in robust tracking methods, sufficient testing capacity, and effective vaccines and treatments.”

For much of the public, there will be few immediate changes. The county’s public health department will continue to provide free COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.

The county’s most visible health care mandate — a universal mask order in indoor public places — was lifted 13 months ago. And a recommendation for face coverings for the general public ended two months ago.

The pandemic saga is still being written, however. And its power, though blunted, has not been dissipated.

“We must remain vigilant,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19. “On the one hand, we are in a much better situation. On the other hand, we cannot predict with absolute certainty how this pandemic will play out, except that this virus is here to stay.

But just as March 2020 is now etched indelibly into our collective consciousness – a watershed moment when everyday life came to a screeching halt – March 2023 can be remembered as the moment COVID-19 officially went from top to bottom. spirit.

One change that will take effect Monday is the end – both in LA County and across California – of the government-ordered COVID-19 vaccination requirement for workers in adult care facilities, prisons and jails. Individual companies or other institutions can still maintain vaccination requirements.

Most healthcare workers should be vaccinated against COVID-19. Federal rules apply to health care facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid money.

Also on Monday, California will lift its order for everyone to mask up in healthcare facilities.

LA County doesn’t go that far. Authorities will lift a mask order for visitors and patients in healthcare facilities, but will retain the requirement for healthcare workers providing patient care or working in patient areas.

“Everything we currently know indicates that these masks provide protection. And we really don’t have a lot of healthcare providers saying they don’t think they have to wear these masks,” Ferrer said. The possibility that an infected doctor or nurse could transmit the coronavirus to a vulnerable patient could “lead to devastating and serious illness”.

The shift from conflict to coexistence with COVID-19 is reflected in the steady unraveling of emergency rules and declarations put in place during the first onslaught of the pandemic.

In late February, Governor Gavin Newsom officially rescinded California’s three-year-old statewide declaration of emergency. President Biden has previously informed Congress that he will rescind national and public health emergency declarations on May 11, though Republicans in Congress are pushing to do so sooner.

The onset of spring ushered in rosy conditions across California — with all 58 counties seeing low community-level transmission and hospitalization rates.

This category, defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that the coronavirus is not spreading at a rapid rate or in a way that places an undue strain on the healthcare system.

LA County’s coronavirus case count is the lowest since July 2021, shortly after the first wave of widespread vaccinations but before the Delta variant arrived. For the seven-day period that ended Tuesday, the county reported an average of 501 cases per day, or 35 cases per week per 100,000 population.

COVID-19 continues to wreak deadly havoc. In the seven-day period that ended Tuesday, 58 LA County residents infected with coronavirus died. That’s lower than the winter high of 164 in early January, but still higher than last fall’s lull of 43 and last spring’s low of 24.

Cumulatively, nearly 36,000 people infected with coronavirus have died in LA County. Over 101,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported across California; nationwide, the death toll is 1.1 million.

And although the toll was lower this winter, COVID-19 was still a significant cause of death. Nationally, 69,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported since October, nearly four times the 18,000 flu deaths estimated during the same period.

Those most at risk of dying remain unvaccinated people, including those who have been infected before. For the 30-day period ending Feb. 14, unvaccinated Angelenos were more than six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who had been vaccinated and received an updated booster shot.

And for a long time, COVID continues to be a risk. A survey has suggested that about 1 in 4 adults nationwide who had COVID-19 face long COVID symptoms that last three months or more. Most people with long-term COVID improve slowly, but some have illness that persists for years, leading to disability, Ferrer said.

LA County has seen a steady and sustained decline in its pandemic-related hospital count in recent months. Since early December, when health systems were still grappling with the fallout from a short-lived fall spike, the number of coronavirus-positive patients has fallen from more than 1,300 to just under 400 on Wednesday.

That tally, which includes people hospitalized specifically for a COVID-related illness and those who accidentally test positive after seeking care for another reason, is the lowest one-day tally since October. But it remains above previous lows in spring 2021 and 2022, when hospitalizations fell to 212 and 209, respectively.

Although the emergency phase of the pandemic is rapidly coming to an end, officials warn that the danger is not yet over. Of particular concern, Van Kerkhove said in a Wednesday briefing, “is the possibility that the virus will change, become not just more transmissible but more severe.”

“We will continue to see waves of infection,” she said. “The spikes in these infections may not be as large as we’ve seen before, and probably won’t be because we have population-level immunity that’s been increased around the world through vaccination and also through a past infection.”

California Daily Newspapers

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