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'Delta' COVID Variant a Growing Concern in L.A. County as Vaccine Rates Fall

A family wearing masks sits on a bench at the Santa Monica Pier amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 20, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
A family wearing masks sits on a bench at the Santa Monica Pier amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 20, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Young Black and Latino residents in Los Angeles County continue to lag behind the rest of the population in COVID-19 vaccination rates, a gap the public health director said today could put the group more at risk as the state's economy reopens, workplaces get more crowded and public gatherings increase.

Creating further concern is the slow but steady rise in the local number of COVID cases involving the so-called "Delta" variant of the virus. The variant is blamed for rampant infections ravaging India and select other areas worldwide.

"We're especially concerned about this variant because it appears to be highly transmissible, and by that we mean it's more contagious, even than other highly contagious COVID variants," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "It's also though that this variant may cause more severe infections than other COVID variants. And while fully vaccinated people appear to be very well protected from infections with Delta variants, people with only one vaccine are not well protected at all."

Ferrer reiterated that the Delta variant has been present in the county for about two months, with 64 cases identified between late April and early June, most of them detected "in the last few weeks."

She said much of the Delta variant spread is occurring within households, with 34 of the 64 patients living in a household with one or more other Delta cases. Despite that statistic, she said the numbers show the variant is circulating in the community at large.

"There are a lot of places where we see multiple members of one family that are infected with the Delta variant, but it's not like we went all the way up to 65 cases of people who are infected with the Delta variant because we had one large outbreak somewhere," she said. "That's actually not the case at all. So we do think there is more circulation of the Delta variant. This has happened across the country. And it's worrisome for people who are not fully vaccinated."

As of June 13, just shy of 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the county, but the pace has slowed dramatically. Ferrer said that during the week of June 7, about 62,000 doses were administered, well short of the county's 100,000-dose goal.

"Now that we've reopened and safety modifications have been lifted at many settings, it is particularly concerning to vaccination momentum flagging," she said.

The problem is particularly concerning among young Black and Latino residents. Among Black residents, only 15% of the population aged 12-15 has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 21% of Latinos in that age group, compared to 38% of whites. Among 16- to 17-year-olds, only 24% of Black residents have at least one dose and 37% of Latinos, compared to 54% of whites.

The numbers also lag among the 18-29 and 30-49 age groups.

"Given how much protection vaccinations provide, it will be important to improve the rates of vaccination among young and middle-age adults, many of whom are part of our essential workforce and may be participating in more activities now that we're fully reopened," Ferrer said.

Black residents, with the lowest rates of vaccination, also have the highest rates of COVID infection, hospitalizations and deaths, followed closely by Latino residents.

"This means that people have the lowest levels of protection from this virus in the communities where the transmission is the highest, and as a consequence, they are most vulnerable in the event that a viral variant causes a resurgence of infections," Ferrer said.

In hopes of encouraging more people to get vaccinated, the county continues to offer incentives. Beginning Friday and continuing through next Thursday, people who get vaccinated at sites run by Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles or St. John's Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a chance to win tickets to see Pepe Aguilar in concert in November, or a VIP package for 20 people at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The contest is also open to anyone who comes in for a first dose, or who come for a second-dose appointment and brings along another person who needs a first dose.

Six Flags, meanwhile, is offering 50,000 free admission tickets to Six Flags theme parks in California. The tickets are available from select vaccination providers across the state. A full list is available at Covid19.ca.gov/Vax-For-The-Win.

The state on July 1 will hold another vaccine-incentive drawing, giving away six California vacation packages, including trips to Anaheim, San Diego, Los Angeles, Rancho Mirage and San Francisco.

The county reported eight new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, raising the pandemic death toll to 24,428. Another 249 cases were confirmed, for a pandemic total of 1,247,032.

According to state figures, there were 220 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Thursday, down from 223 on Wednesday. There were 52 people in intensive care, up from 49 the previous day.

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