County leaders ‘not in a hurry’ to implement indoor vaccine requirement as COVID-19 cases decline

County leaders on Tuesday signaled they’re not quite ready to implement an indoor vaccine requirement on private businesses after health officials presented early data that shows virus levels in the county are declining.

Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that case rates, testing positivity rates and for the first time since mid-August, even hospitalization rates, have crept down.

Daily case rates in Los Angeles County (21.1 cases per 100,000 residents) dropped by about 12% since last week, according to Ferrer. For the first time since the middle of August, hospitalizations are below 1,700.

While Long Beach’s numbers are slightly higher than the county’s, it has also seen a small decline, with its case rate dropping from a high of 37 per 100,000 residents earlier this month to 31.6 as of Monday. Long Beach’s testing positivity rate (6.3%) is still more than double the county’s (2.7%), according to the most recently available city data.

“We’re definitely seeing things plateau right now,” Dr. Anissa Davis, the Long Beach health officer, said Tuesday. “It’s difficult to say it’s a trend.”

Ferrer’s presentation appeared to instill new confidence in board members that an indoor vaccine policy for businesses like bars, restaurants and sports events was not necessary at this time.

“I”m not convinced I want to pull the trigger on proof of vaccination,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents Long Beach.

Hahn said she didn’t want the county to get back to a point where businesses would have to shut down again or limit capacity, but said that implementing a policy could come with as many challenges as there would be benefits regarding decreasing the spread of the virus and driving unvaccinated people to get vaccinated.

Hahn authored a request earlier this month for county health officials to look at the feasibility of instituting an indoor vaccine policy, similar to those being considered by the city of Los Angeles and already applied in New York and San Francisco.

Ferrer said that the proposal would have applied to residents over the age of 12 and would only apply to indoor settings. Businesses that could have been affected include bars, restaurants, theaters and large outdoor and indoor activities like sporting events.

Outreach from the county’s health officials to business sectors showed a desire that any policy be countywide, Ferrer said, adding that it would immediately reduce risk of transmission if was adopted.

“We can’t just keep doing this cycle,” Ferrer said, referring to the periodic surges of COVID-19 like the one the region is currently experiencing.

Ferrer ultimately deferred to the board to move forward with the policy.

Hahn was joined Supervisors Holly Mitchell, Kathryn Barger and Hilda Solis, who all expressed optimism that what the county is currently doing, like mandating vaccines for county health workers and the potential for booster shots in the coming month, could keep cases trending down.

“I’m not in a hurry given that we’ve already instituted a lot of other safeguards,” Solis said, prefacing her comment with the possibility that the board could have to revisit it after the Labor Day holiday.

Last week Long Beach health officials said they would be tracking the county’s meeting Tuesday as they anticipated a new order being issued by the county in the coming weeks.

Long Beach has opted for an educational approach instead of crafting its own ordinance to require vaccines for certain indoor activities.

“We are always looking at what the next steps are, especially as we’ve seen this going into effect in other cities,” Davis, the city’s health officer, said.

Davis said the city has no concrete plans for a requirement on private businesses.

She noted, however, that thousands of school kids are returning to classes this week, with a mandate for regular testing among those who are not vaccinated. This influx of new tests and potential cases could affect the city’s numbers in the next few weeks.

Ferrer said she doesn’t know when the region will return to low rates of infections and are recommending vaccination and indoor mask wearing as they prepare for another potential winter surge that could be spurred on by school reopenings.

The county has seen an increase in the past week of school outbreaks—three or more cases with probable transmission at school—and the department has issued new guidance that goes into effect Wednesday for youth sports, which will require testing for participants 12 and older who are not vaccinated.

Ferrer warned that the delta variant has changed what health experts knew about COVID-19 and it could lead to more changes in the future.

The delta variant, which now makes up almost all cases detected in the county, causes more serious illness and eliminated vaccinated persons as “dead-end hosts” because they have also been found to be able to transmit it after being infected. This is something that vaccines have historically prevented, Ferrer said.

“When we need to make changes, we’ll make those changes and try our best to explain why,” Ferrer said.

Managing editor Melissa Evans contributed to this report. 

Long Beach leaders consider indoor vaccine mandate in anticipation of upcoming LA County decision

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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