LOS ANGELES, CA — Los Angeles County plans to begin offering the coronavirus vaccinations to 1. 3 million teachers and other essential workers within two to three weeks, the public health department announced Wednesday. The county has nowhere near enough vaccines for the seniors already eligible for inoculation, so it remains to be seen how quickly those in the expanded eligibility pool will get vaccinated.
But officials are clearly racing to increase the pace of vaccinations as new variants of the coronavirus surface in California. The first cases of the South African variant were confirmed in Northern California Wednesday while at least 8 cases of the U.K. variant have been confirmed in Los Angeles County. The West Coast variant discovered last month is already widespread in Los Angeles. The rapid emergence of new variants raises questions about the degrees of efficacy that each vaccine has against the changing coronavirus.
In a tandem development, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will announce a deal for reopening elementary schools this week after acknowledging that vaccines for teachers are part of the negotiations.
“As I said yesterday, I maintain confidence that we will announce a deal as early as Friday with the legislature that will allow our youngest cohorts to return safely to school starting with kindergarten to second grade, and ultimately get cohorts up to sixth grade, at least in that first phase,” Newsom told reporters.
LA’s expanded eligibility pool comes the same week that the county reserved the bulk of its vaccination appointments for people in need of their second shot. Only a small fraction of residents aged 65 and over have yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition to getting the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention recommended residents double mask to protect themselves Wednesday. The CDC found that wearing a cloth mask over a medical mask can reduce coronavirus exposure by 95 percent. The advice comes as hundreds continue to die every day in Los Angeles, which has seen more than 1,000 people die every week this year. Though cases are dropping, Los Angeles continues to be the epicenter of the state’s outbreak, accounting for 18,500 of the state’s 45,000 coronavirus fatalities. California’s death toll Tuesday made it the hardest-hit state in the nation although the per capita rate is lower than in many other states.
Los Angeles County reported another 141 deaths due to the coronavirus Wednesday and another 3,434 cases, raising the total number of cases from throughout the pandemic to 1,155,309.
The number of new cases continues to fall dramatically putting Los Angeles County on track to enter another tier of reopenings within weeks. With additional reopenings within sight, multiple industries, interest groups, and unions are jockeying for their workers to get vaccine priority.
Newsom has increased pressure on health officials to open up the vaccination pool to teachers, childcare workers, police, and food and agriculture workers – all see as essential to the safe reopening of the state.