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California sees hopeful signs as counties fight for vaccines

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The county health department received 12,000 doses last week and had expected the same amount this week, but received only 1,775.

Local hospitals including the University of California, San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente have larger supplies available. Still, “This unreliable source makes it very hard to plan,” public health director Dr. Grant Colfax said.

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Sacramento County Public Health has just 975 doses allocated for this week, and area hospitals also have a short supply, leading Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye to call for patience.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Hilda Solis directed the county Department of Public Health to make vaccination appointments available starting Thursday to an estimated 1.3 million county residents 65 and older, despite the shortage.

“This is about equity. Older adults have been unfairly impacted by the virus,” Solis said.

The nation’s most populous county opened five large-scale coronavirus vaccination sites Tuesday, with the capacity to inoculate 4,000 people at each location daily, and plans more sites in neighborhoods at locations like local schools in coming weeks.

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“In the meantime, I want to urge patience,” Solis said. “We’ll get to you, and you’ll get your shot.”

LA County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said there is currently enough vaccine “to get through this week,” but “we’ll just have to see how many doses we’ll get for the following weeks.”

California officials from state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly on down said they are counting on the federal distribution network speeding up once President-elect Joe Biden takes office Wednesday.

So far 3.2 million doses have been shipped to California and 1.5 million have been administered, Ghaly said. That exceeds Gov. Gavin Newsom’s goal of getting an additional 1 million shots in arms over a 10-day period, but Ghaly could not say if the state met Newsom’s self-imposed Friday deadline for doing so, citing lagging reports.

The delay in administering the remaining 1.7 million doses may be because some have not actually arrived in the state yet, and some have been earmarked for those needing second doses or for the mass vaccination sites, he said.

Meanwhile, infection indicators are “all showing trends in the right direction,” Ghaly said. A surge following Christmas and New Year’s had been feared on top of the surge after Halloween and Thanksgiving that drove case levels and hospitalizations to record levels.

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Only a couple of weeks ago, it was feared some hospitals in Los Angeles and other hard-hit areas might have to begin rationing care as they ran out of surge capacity that was tapped when regular beds were filled.

But statewide hospitalizations are down 8.5% over 14 days, with the number of intensive care patients also easing. Hospitals that had been seeing 3,500 new patients each day are now seeing 2,500 to 2,900 daily admissions — still distressingly high, but “quite a significant reduction,” Ghaly said.

The statewide positivity for the virus fell below 10% for the first time in weeks, and each infected individual is now infecting less than one other person — a recipe for an eventual decline in cases.

“These are rays of hope shining through,” Ghaly said.

Skilled nursing homes that bore the brunt of the virus in the early months of the pandemic and then again during the latest surge have seen cases drop by half in the last month.

Deaths continue at a frightening pace, however. More than 6,700 people have died in the last two weeks. In Los Angeles County, the state’s most populous, so many people have died that the air quality board temporarily amended its rules to allow for more cremations.

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Health officials are in a race against time, not only as patients continue to become sick and die but as the virus mutates into forms that can spread much more easily.

State officials warned last weekend that an L452R variant of the virus has been found in at least a dozen counties and identified in several large outbreaks in Northern California’s Santa Clara County.

The variant is one of five recurring mutations that made up a strain called CAL.20C, researchers at Cedars-Sinai said. They reported CAL.20C has been found in more than one-third of Los Angeles County infections and may be contributing to the rapid spread across Southern California in the last two months.

Both are different than the strain identified in Britain, known as B.1.1.7, that has been identified in various California locations. Researchers are studying whether the new variations are more resistant to vaccines or more deadly, Ghaly said.

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Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Janie Har and Olga Rodriquez in San Francisco and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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