With COVID-19 cases on the rise statewide — including rapidly in Los Angeles County — as a winter surge takes hold, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced officially Wednesday that health care workers will be required to get booster shots.
In L.A. County, Department of Public Health officials reported more than 6,500 cases Wednesday for the first time since Jan. 30.
This figure is double the number of COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday and more than five times that reported last Tuesday, Dec. 14, per Public Health data.
“The steep increase — one of the steepest rises we’ve ever seen over the course of the pandemic — reflects the increased circulation of Omicron and the associated rapid acceleration of transmission associated with this variant,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Although hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively stable at this time, they are both known to be lagging indicators because most people don’t experience severe illness until a few days after testing positive.”
Newsom’s announcement is set to require health care workers and all employees in high-risk congregate settings, including nursing homes, to get their booster by Feb. 1, Newsom reiterated.
“We recognize now that just being vaccinated, fully vaccinated, is just not enough with this new variant, and we believe it’s important to extend this requirement to getting that third dose,” Newsom said, adding that California was the first to require health care workers to be vaccinated.
The move comes as the state’s test positivity rate has risen to 3.3% from 2.3% this time last week, while its case rate has nearly doubled from 5,400 cases last week to just shy of 11,000 Wednesday, Newsom said.
However, Newsom noted California still has the lowest test positivity in the U.S., as well as the highest vaccination rates, and remains committed to ensuring there is no staffing shortage through the holidays.
Newsom and L.A. County Public Health officials continue to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted, which early studies indicate is effective at preventing illness and hospitalization, even with the Omicron variant.
“Even with transmission shooting upward, vaccination continues to be highly protective against hospitalization,” Ferrer said as she shared L.A. County’s latest data during a media briefing Wednesday, noting that unvaccinated people were five times more likely to get infected, 20-21 times more likely to be hospitalized and 18 times likelier to die due to COVID-19 infection.
Ferrer also noted that L.A. County plans to align its health officer order with the state’s to require health care workers to get boosted by Feb. 1.
County Supervisor Holly Mitchell of the 2nd District said this surge may feel a little like déjà vu to many, though she added, “We have lessons learned that make us better prepared to slow the spread of this virus. We know what needs to be done.”
As the holidays near, Mitchell urged residents to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing masks, and getting tested regularly.
“COVID-19 is not done with us,” Mitchell added. “No one should have to sacrifice your health or life when we have an important tool in our toolkit, and that’s the vaccine. We still have the power to change the course of this pandemic.”
Newsom also reaffirmed his commitment Wednesday to keeping schools open, announcing the state had purchased 6 million at-home rapid COVID-19 tests and would be sending them to partners across the state to prioritize testing for students before they return to school after the winter holiday.
Additionally, the state would be expanding access to testing by increasing hours of operation at state-sponsored sites that are already at capacity.
“California schools have been open because of, not despite of, our priority on safety. As we approach the new year, we reaffirm our shared commitment to one another, to our parents and to our students: to keep each other safe and to keep our classrooms open,” Newsom said in a joint statement with education organizations, including the California Teachers Association, released Wednesday.
COVID-19 vaccine requirements for school districts are not yet in place and are set to go into effect after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approves the vaccine for each age group, with certain exemptions, according to Newsom.
The FDA also approved Pfizer’s at-home COVID-19 treatment pill Wednesday, which studies show is 89% effective at reducing the risk of severe illness and death from the virus — and effective against Omicron.
Paxlovid was authorized by the FDA for treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in anyone 12 and older who weighs at least about 88 pounds. It is set to be available by prescription only to patients who test positive and are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.
County Public Health officials also released the following updated COVID-19 statistics Wednesday:
Countywide COVID-19 cases reported in the past 24 hours: 6,509
Total COVID-19 cases in L.A. County: 1,576,702
New deaths related to COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours: 16
Total COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County: 27,488
Hospitalizations countywide: 748
Hospitalizations at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital as of Dec. 21: 24, with 1,690 discharged since the onset of the pandemic.
COVID-19 cases reported in the Santa Clarita Valley in the past 24 hours: 163, 122 of which came from the city of Santa Clarita.
Total COVID-19 cases in the SCV: 40,527
Total COVID-19 deaths in the SCV as of Dec. 21: 371
Percentage of vaccinated people (at least one dose) in the city of Santa Clarita as of Dec. 16: 77.9%*
Percentage of vaccinated people (at least one dose) in the SCV as of Dec. 16: 74.5%*
*These figures now include all eligible Los Angeles County residents ages 5 and older.