For the first time since the original COVID-19 vaccine was announced, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health expressed hope, optimism and a change in tone during Thursday’s weekly press briefing.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer made no official prediction for how this winter will play out but she did indicate that the worst of the pandemic may be behind us.
“Navigating the pandemic has been made much easier with the new tools at hand and the data we can look at to better understand risk. High numbers no longer mean shutting down events or gathering over Zoom,” said Ferrer. “We have the strategies, information and resources to celebrate in person with friends, with family in safe ways. I hope that over the next few days everyone can use this information to keep each other protected. Simple efforts can lead to big returns and this works best when people come together and act collectively.”
Ferrer also acknowledged that in a country that doesn’t have a history or culture of wearing a mask, the pandemic has been a source of division – saying that a mask has become a symbol for hopelessness that the pandemic would never end.
““What is hard and what we’ve acknowledged is very hard for all of us is [that] we’re going into year three and we’d like to be done,” said Ferrer. “Symbolically, keeping a mask on in this country where we don’t have a history of wearing masks…has been really aligned with [the idea] that this pandemic might never end… there are some people in the public who are just done with the pandemic.”
Ferrer said the Health Department’s job is to prevent people from getting sick, from dying, and to monitor the stress on the county’s health care system. She wanted to express that it meant no malice in its intentions and as the county enters the tamest winter since the beginning of the pandemic, pragmatic solutions may be the way forward.
“I think we just have to be realistic,” said Ferrer.
While masking may not be necessary in the future, it’s heavily recommended – especially in large groups or when indoors. Ferrer acknowledged that while the original COVID-19 vaccine was first thought to prevent infection, this turned out to not be the case as variants and sub-variants became dominant.
But now there are bivalent vaccines that can help protect against infections and even for those who did get sick, there are therapeutics that can prevent hospitalizations. While Ferrer offered words of optimism, it also came with its caveats.
While case rates (3,000 per day) in the past week have decreased 21%, deaths are a lagging indicator and have doubled (16 per day) since last week. This included a “somber milestone” for the county, which marked its 20th pediatric death.
“I extend my condolences to the child’s family and to all families that have been impacted by loss due to COVID,” said Ferrer. “This is incredibly difficult and my heart is with all those experiencing grief due to this pandemic.”
The total number of deaths from COVID-19 in L.A. County is now at 34,400.
Ferrer noted that while there may be light at the end of the tunnel, it has, and will, take a village to get there.
“We all continue to have a role to play to reduce COVID-19 transmission and I appreciate the inspiring efforts I’ve witnessed in the community,” said Ferrer. “Your actions have personal impact and also impact the people around you, even those you don’t know. I wish everyone a joyous start to the holidays.”