The “welcome” mat is about to be stretched from one end of the state of California to the other after the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down much of the state for the past 16 months.

Next week, on June 15, state officials plan to lift the remaining COVID-19 restrictions they began enforcing in March of 2020.

However, it  looks as if, for people in LA County, life has already returned to a pre-pandemic lifestyle.

Kids are playing Little League baseball in parks like the Sylmar Recreation Center. People are meeting their friends at restaurants, and owners are briskly serving sit-down customers both inside and outside their establishments from morning into night. 

The LA streets and freeways are clogged with traffic despite the continued surge in gasoline prices. And more people are walking, running, skateboarding, or just sitting around outside without masks.

And among those unmasked is a large segment of the public  — locally, regionally and statewide — that flatly rejects being vaccinated.

The reasons include personal or religious objections. Many have expressed distrust in both the government and the medical profession regarding the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and instead trust anecdotal information from unscientific sources.

“No Reason” Not To Be Vaccinated

Dr. James Berenson, a Los Angeles-based oncologist and clinical cancer researcher specializing in multiple myeloma, argues that any assumption that the battle against COVID-19 is over is wrong — even with several vaccines now available.

“There’s no reason not to get vaccinated. The reason to get vaccinated is so we can all get to ‘herd immunity,’ and we won’t have to worry as much about this virus,” Berenson said.

“The risk of getting [COVID-19] — if you’re not vaccinated — is the same as it was a year ago before the vaccines.” 

Dr. James Berenson

“Secondly, the risk of getting [COVID-19] — if you’re not vaccinated — is the same as it was a year ago before the vaccines. Your chances of getting sick are almost identical. Even people who have been vaccinated, but are asymptomatic, could pass the virus on to an unvaccinated person and not even know it.”

Many people, who are taking off their masks don’t realize there will be more exposure to COVID-19. This is a serious risk for many who remain immune supressed, and may not have the antibodies to protect them from COVID-19 even if vaccinated.

This includes cancer patients and others who have conditions or are undergoing treatment that has impacted their immune systems. These are people who are likely to still be wearing masks and socially distancing themselves after June 15.

That’s why, Berenson said, the public should consider not doing harm to other people more susceptible of becoming infected by bullying them about wearing masks, and “acting like it’s all over and I can do what I want.”

“Some folks who have immune deficient conditions may be at a greater risk of getting it,” he said. “And people who are ‘anti-vaxers’ are putting other people like them at a big-time risk. I think that’s terrible. This is not over, especially for the 10-20 percent of the general population that may be immunocompromised. It’s not fair to them.”

Berenson is also put off by those who expect doctors to have all the immediate answers for every question people still have about COVID-19.

He understands people being suspicious and mistrustful, especially if they were vaccinated but got infected anyway. But, he said, there is still much doctors and scientists need to learn about how the virus and the coming variant strains can affect the body and the immune system, the lingering and long-term effects, and how long the current vaccines can fight off infection before another [booster shot] is needed.

“We are still learning [a lot about the virus] on the fly. Some of the things we’ve learned about [treating] COVID now I might not have thought about three months ago,” Berenson said.

LA Council President Nury Martinez (left) spent June 3 in North Hills urging residents to get vaccinated if they had not done so.

Going Door-to-Door

The city of Los Angeles has increased its public awareness campaigns like “VaxUp LA,” which kicked off on June 3, to get more people tested and vaccinated.

LA Council President Nury Martinez spent part of that day walking through parts of the North Hills community with volunteers, knocking on doors and trying to encourage residents  to get vaccinated.

“The daily COVID numbers in Los Angeles are dropping because of increased vaccinations, but we are not out of the woods yet,” Martinez said.

“This campaign will help us improve vaccination rates in communities of color,” said Martinez, noting that African Americans and Latinos still lag far behind other groups in having access to or receiving the vaccination. “We all want Los Angeles to return to ‘normal,’ but we need to make sure our most vulnerable community members are protected.”

The county Health Department is hosting a virtual Town Hall meeting today, June 10, at 6 p.m., to provide the latest updates on how the reopening takes place. The virtual meeting will be streamed live on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube @lapublichealth. If you want to submit a question for the meeting, visit: tinyurl.com/AskReopeningTownHall.

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