As much as people function like the Covid-19 pandemic is over, it rages on with new and even more contagious variants. In L.A. County the latest figures of cases and hospitalizations are frequently assessed looking toward the possibility of reimposing indoor mask mandates.
Los Angeles County moved into the CDC’s “high” level of Covid-19 community activity earlier this month, when the average daily rate of virus-related hospital admissions rose to 10.5 per 100,000 residents, surpassing the threshold of 10 per 100,000.
Providing accurate numbers of cases can be challenging. Public health officials acknowledge that the number of cases they consider doesn’t reflect those who use home tests to confirm their illness but fail to inform the agency or those they have come in contact with who should also be tested and report their results if positive.
Those Most At Risk
While many, especially those who’ve been vaccinated and boosted can bounce back after getting COVID-19, those who continue to be at high risk – people of color, the elderly and the immunocompromised need to be considered. They are especially vulnerable when coming into contact with someone carrying the virus.
“We need to point out and to really call attention to the story of COVID-19 with respect to older adults of color,” said Denny Chan, Directing Attorney, Justice in Aging.
At a recent press briefing with the California Department of Aging and Ethnic Media Services, Chan pointed to national data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) which shows higher hospitalization rates for Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaskan Native older adults.
There is also a disproportionate number of Latino and Black seniors who’ve lost their lives to Covid.
Chan says according to newly acquired data from the California Department of Public Health, Latinos aged 65-79 account for 45% of deaths due to Covid-19, despite making up less than 22% of the population of California. Additionally, older black adults, which account for 5.5% of the population, make up 8% of Covid deaths in California.
The Vaccine Lowers Rates of Hospitalizations
Dr. Sara Tartof, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, noted the vaccine’s impact on improving the numbers of people hospitalized.
“This is something that we have seen throughout the pandemic, the vaccine does seem to work better against severe outcomes than against infection.”
While 70% of all COVID deaths in California are people 65 and older, what’s positive is that 84% of adults 65 and above have had their primary series completed and 76% have had at least one booster, Tartof offered.
“We haven’t seen that spike in hospitalizations to quite the extent that we have seen in the past,” she said.
According to Dr. Tartof, the increase in protection from the third dose of vaccine exceeds that of the first two doses, but even with advances in understanding how COVID-19 responds to vaccines, many older people and those with health conditions can still face the most significant challenges.
“It has been known that older people and the immunocompromised have always been at an increased risk for both infection and severe symptoms, but it is now known that what we saw for immunocompromised people is that this protection doesn’t get boosted as high, to begin with, and it also wanes fairly quickly after the third dose,” said Tartof.
“As you age, you’re more likely to develop immunocompromising conditions. These people are really at increased risk of severe outcomes. So it is absolutely critical that boosters are followed or administered in these populations,” she said.
Tartof considers it critical for people, especially seniors to protect themselves by staying up to date and keeping track of current recommendations. “It’s confusing, but I study long Covid, and those very debilitating symptoms are very difficult to treat.” For those who remain hesitant about the vaccine, Tartof said, “Every time I feel hesitant, I just think that I’m more willing to take risks with the vaccine, which are actually very minimal compared to the risks of long-term [Covid-19].”
Many Can Still Benefit From Getting Vaxxed and Boosters
There are a variety of scenarios with many people who are vaccinated but haven’t followed up with their booster shots, unaware that they’re needed to maximize protection from the virus. There are others who’ve received only one booster even though it’s recommended they receive a second booster and there are those who’ve refused vaccination altogether.
But, whatever the situation, vaccines and boosters are now readily available with vaccines being approved for more and more age groups – most recently for young children. Much progress has been made since the beginning of the pandemic when the vaccine was rationed and prioritized for one group compared to another.
“We’re getting easier access. And there’s a potential for more specific vaccines targeting variants along the way, perhaps coming down the pike,” said Chan.
“We also know that vaccines work and this is based on the state data that shows that as of May, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to get COVID, seven times more likely to be hospitalized, and 10 times more likely to die than those who have been boosted.” Access, Chan points out is now available for people at home.
It’s Not Over
“COVID-19’s dangers are not singular, and neither are the solutions,” said Chan. “It’s very clear that we are still in a pandemic.”
The biggest risk to everyone may be complacency.
“It’s imperative that people take up the responsibility and continue to do what is known to prevent the disease’s spread. Wear a mask in public, avoid large events, and most importantly, stay vaccinated. You might be done with Covid, but Covid is not done with you,” said Chan.
Free transportation or in-home delivery of vaccinations and boosters can be arranged in multiple languages by calling 1-833-422-4255. On the web, go to https://myturn.ca.gov/, The site covid19.ca.gov also has information and scheduling help available in dozens of languages.
Diana Martinez contributed to this article.