COVID spikes again in Long Beach, but vaccines have kept hospitalizations and deaths down

New cases of coronavirus infection are mounting more quickly, with the city reporting nearly 1,600 new cases last week. New case reports have been steadily climbing since the week of April 11, when Long Beach health officials reported just 33 new cases.

Officials recorded 837 new cases on Friday, which is two more than were reported the entire previous week, according to city data. In all, health officials reported 1,591 last week.

“We urge people to consider taking extra steps to protect themselves, like masking indoors and testing before and after gatherings,” Health Department spokeswoman Jennifer Rice Epstein said in an email to the Post.

“Stay home when sick!” Rice Epstein added, noting that even if a person thinks it could be allergies or a minor cold. “Better safe than sorry.”

Based on previous experiences, Long Beach Health Officer Anissa Davis told the Post she “wouldn’t be surprised” to see an additional spike in new cases following the Memorial Day weekend, which was filled with gatherings of friends and family.

After remaining relatively stagnant week after week, coronavirus-related deaths in Long Beach also have begun trending up. It took nearly two months—from March 23 through May 18—for the number of Long Beach residents killed by the virus to increase from 1,259 to 1,268. Since May 19, that figure has jumped to 1,277.

“It’s always disheartening to hear of someone dying from COVID-19,” Davis said in an email. “It serves as a further reminder of the importance of each of us taking common sense measures to prevent infection.”

The department, however, is not considering reinstating any restrictions—yet. But with mounting cases, the city was pushed into the ‘medium’ range for coronavirus last week per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s three-tier system focuses on three metrics: new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 people in the past seven days, the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. In Long Beach, those figures are 1.1, 2.3% and 313.4, respectively.

The seven-day new case rate marks a more than 480% increase from one month ago and a nearly 1,407% increase from the beginning of April, city data shows.

To be pushed into the ‘high’ tier would require a drastic surge in hospitalizations, which could threaten to overwhelm the local health system and trigger mask mandates as well as vaccine verification for large events and other high-risk settings. Long Beach officials, however, do not anticipate such a surge.

“With the number of people who have been vaccinated and boosted, we are optimistic that we won’t see the overwhelming hospitalization and death rates we saw in the winter 2020/2021 surge,” Rice Epstein said.

In Long Beach, just under 69.7% of residents have been fully inoculated against the virus, while just under 77% have received at least one dose. The number of vaccines being doled out, though, has slowed to a crawl, with the department administering only a few dozen each day, according to city data.

On March 30, the city reported that 68.7% of residents had been fully vaccinated against the virus, meaning it took almost two months for that number to increase a single percent. First doses took even longer, growing a single percent from Feb. 26 to May 24.

“Demand has slowed significantly,” Rice Epstein said. “We’re still doing everything we can to encourage folks to get vaccinated.”

Officials have gone as far as mandating vaccines for city employees, which will take effect next week.

While the number of fully vaccinated people is relatively strong, the number of booster shots administered by the city remains worryingly low, according to city data. As of Sunday, only 35.6% of Long Beach residents had received a booster shot.

From Dec. 1, 2021, to April 20, the case rate for people aged 18 and up was 6,415 per 100,000 people among those who had received a booster prior to infection, compared to 16,374 among those who only completed the primary series of shots, according to Health Department data.

Health officials began offering vaccine boosters for children ages 5 to 11 over one week ago.

A second booster was approved for people ages 50 and over as well as the immunocompromised at the end of March. As of May 26, only 6.3% of residents ages 18 and over have received a second booster, Rice Epstein said.

There are many reasons why people choose not to be vaccinated or boosted, Rice Epstein said. Some do not trust the jab and/or the health system, she said, while others might feel a sense of fatalism since the shots do not make you fully immune to the virus.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: We are facing an uphill battle,” Rice Epstein said, adding that the department canvases neighborhoods citywide almost every day offering shots. “But the data are not disputed: People who get vaccinated and boosted are far less likely to become hospitalized or die of COVID-19.”

Long Beach to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees in June

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Brandon Richardson is a business reporter, covering everything from real estate and healthcare to the airport and port to city hall and the economy. He is a Long Beach native who has been with the Business Journal since graduating from Long Beach City College in spring 2016 with an associate’s degree in journalism. He is an avid record collector and concert goer.
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