As the number of COVID-19 cases in the Antelope Valley have started to increase, as elsewhere in Los Angeles County and the state, local officials are seeking ways to increase the number of residents vaccinated against the disease.
“We are in good shape as long as we get our vaccines,” said Dr. Jonathan Truong, vice chief of staff at Palmdale Regional Medical Center and Lancaster Deputy Mayor, during a July 13 City Council meeting.
Earlier this week, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that COVID-19 cases in the county have increased twentyfold in the month since the economy was reopened with very few remaining restrictions. The rate of positive tests jumped from .7% a month ago to 5.2%.
The number of new cases reported exceeded 3,000 Friday for the first time since February, county officials said.
The increase is reflected in the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19. As of July 23, 655 people were hospitalized countywide, compared to 213 on June 21.
Locally, Palmdale Regional Medical Center and Antelope Valley Hospital are seeing an increase in cases over the past several weeks, especially among those who have not been vaccinated.
As of Thursday, Palmdale Regional Medical Center had 15 COVID-19 patients in-house, with three of those in the ICU, according to a statement from hospital officials.
None of those patients were vaccinated, officials said, strongly encouraging those eligible to get the vaccine.
At Antelope Valley Hospital, “we are seeing an increase,” Director of Marketing and Public Relations Cynthia Frausto said Friday.
The number of patients admitted with COVID-19 started climbing by double-digits in early June, according to the hospital’s near-weekly updates. As of Friday, the hospital had admitted 19 more patients with COVID-19 than the week prior, and 21 were listed as in-house. Positive tests administered by the hospital increased by 96 over the prior week.
Public health officials at all levels are attributing at least a portion of the increase to the rapid growth in the number of cases caused by the Delta variant, a mutation of the COVID-19 virus which is more contagious.
Statewide, the Delta variant accounts for 82.8% of the samples sequenced as of Wednesday, according to the California Department of Public Health. It was first found in monthly reporting at 2% in April.
For Los Angeles County, the Delta variant was found in 84% of the samples sequenced the week of July 11, the most recent data available from the county Department of Public Health.
While state and county statistics show the more-contagious Delta variant of the virus has become predominant, the number of Delta variant cases locally was not available. Local hospitals do not sequence to determine if individual cases are one variant or another, that information is compiled by the California Department of Public Health, officials said.
“Delta is problematic,” Truong said.
The Delta variant is 225% more contagious, with more hospitalizations, he said at the July 13 Council meeting.
The good news is that the available vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness or hospitalization even against the Delta variant.
There is a very small chance of getting the disease once fully vaccinated — less than 1% according to Los Angeles County figures.
“We know that this is the tool that will get us out of the pandemic,” Truong said. “The vaccine has changed the way we’re dealing with the pandemic.”
In Los Angeles County, 70.1% of residents age 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 88.2% of seniors age 65 and older have at lease one dose, according to public health officials.
In the Antelope Valley, while seniors in Lancaster and Palmdale are vaccinated at a rate of about 80%, the numbers are lower in the unincorporated areas. The numbers of those under age 65, however, are significantly lower throughout the Valley.
In Lancaster and Palmdale, 51.3% and 59.1% respectively, of those 16 and older are vaccinated as of July 18, according to the county.
In the unincorporated communities, rates ranges from 26% in Lake Hughes to 53% in Sun Village, with most areas in the 30% to 50% range.
Public health and government officials at all levels are seeking means of ensuring people are vaccinated.
While the most vulnerable population, those over age 65, are largely protected, the rest of the community remains vulnerable, Truong said.
The state and other entities have offered cash and other prizes for getting vaccinated, outreach efforts have been made by a number of community organizations to encourage and provide vaccinations and mandates are in place or being considered for some workplaces, schools and other entities where people gather.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris has led discussions about requiring city employees who work directly with members of the public to be vaccinated. They could be shifted to other positions away from the public if they refuse or suspended if there are no other positions available, he said during discussion July 13.
“It’s our obligation to protect the public health,” Parris said. “It’s not optional.”
“Our goal is to never see a field hospital in our city again,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Maria Altamirano, a nurse at Antelope Valley Hospital, suggested partnering with community organizations on individual outreach to encourage vaccination, something that has been difficult to do until recently with the COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings and personal contact.
Parris said the matter is a social equity issue, given that Black and Latino communities have lower vaccination rates than other groups, and asked the city’s Social Equity Commission to be involved in the effort.
In Palmdale, the city recently began a campaign with posters designed by community members in a contest to help promote vaccination, as well as hosting numerous vaccination sites.
The city’s “Palmdale Cares” initiative, formed shortly after the pandemic began, has been the platform for much of its work in promoting public health safety, mental health, vaccination programs and other concerns as the pandemic progressed.
Free vaccinations are available to every Los Angeles County resident ages 12 and older. Vaccinations are available at numerous sites across the Valley, including most chain pharmacies, several health centers, vaccination clinics at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds and Palmdale Oasis Recreation Center, as well as frequent pop-up clinics at various locations.
Visit publichealth.lacounty.gov for details on the nearest available vaccination opportunities.