It’s been 16 days since the last known COVID-19 death in Long Beach, and officials are cautiously optimistic that the trend can continue given the city’s vaccination rate and continued vigilance among residents.
The last time a Long Beach resident died from COVID-19 was April 17, according to city data.
It’s possible there have been deaths since then that health officials don’t yet know about. It takes, on average, 10 days between the date of someone’s death and the date it’s publicly reported, according to the Long Beach Health Department.
But as of today, the city doesn’t know of any Long Beach residents or any patients in Long Beach hospitals who have died from COVID-19 since April 17, according to Emily Holman, Long Beach’s communicable disease controller.
“It feels like at this point you can breathe a little,” Holman said.
Los Angeles County health officials also reported a glimmer of hope this week. They haven’t reported any new COVID-19 deaths over the past two days, but county health officials believe that number will be revised because of weekend reporting backlogs that have persisted through the pandemic.
“I want there to be a real day and actually have a day where nobody really died on a given day,” Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said. “I think we’re close to getting there. I hope we’re close to getting there.”
The latest date Long Beach announced any new deaths was on April 28, but those had occurred two months earlier and were announced in April because of a backlog in processing death certificates, the city said.
Because of the way death certificates are handled, it can sometimes take weeks for news of a Long Beach resident’s death to make its way back to city officials if the resident died somewhere outside the city. However, Long Beach’s health department knows for sure that nobody has died recently from COVID-19 in its local hospitals because those are reported daily, according to Holman.
“It’s huge,” she said of the plummeting death rate. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and we’ve never dealt with something like this in terms of communicable disease where you see so many deaths.”
The turn of events in the past few months is largely being attributed to vaccines, which have helped whittle down daily deaths from a high of over 12 in early January to an average of less than one death per day for over the past two months.
Holman said that the surge of deaths that began in December was emotionally difficult for public health officials who had to make calls to grieving families, often times to conduct contact tracing. Deaths are now a fraction of what they were during the winter surge. Holman said the data has her cautiously optimistic.
The city has gone from announcing an average of seven to 13 deaths every day over a six-week span in December and January to none over the past two weeks.
Long Beach is approaching 60% of its eligible residents being at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 but has had to adjust its approach as demand for shots has waned in recent weeks.
The city has announced mobile clinics and said last week that it would partner with schools in the city to provide vaccines to parents and children, a segment of the population that could become eligible for the shot in the coming weeks.
Ferrer said Monday that children as young as 12 could be eligible for vaccinations in the “not so distant future” and the county has partnered with 41 school sites in preparation for that announcement.
However, like Long Beach, the county has seen a drop in demand for vaccines with 24% fewer people seeking shots last week. Ferrer said that the county is working to make vaccines more accessible and to erode doubts that some might have about getting the vaccine.
The New York Times reported Monday that medical experts now believe that “herd immunity” is unlikely to be reached, but Ferrer said that the county is not here to force people to get vaccines but to present information about how powerful they are against preventing illness and death.
Holman said the Long Beach is likely to see more deaths in the future but said the city is heading in the right direction. She said that even preventing one or two deaths per day is important and urged people to continue to follow CDC guidelines and to get vaccinated if they have not already.
“We expect we will see some deaths over the next month or so,” Holman said. “It’s a good reminder to anyone who’s hesitant about getting a vaccine that now is the time.”
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