Author: Erika Martin

L.A. County’s new outdoor event, nightlife venue rules seek to drive up vaccination rates

With increasing inoculation rates their highest priority in the continued battle against COVID-19, Los Angeles County health officials on Friday are unveiling a new health officer order that encourages people to get vaccinated to enter more public spaces.

The new rules apply to outdoor events and venues with more than 10,000 attendees, as well as indoors at bars, nightclubs, wineries, breweries and lounges.

“It is clear that our vaccination progress is stalling, and we need to move in a different direction to avoid future surges in cases,” county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a briefing Friday.

Outdoor mega-events will need to start verifying attendees’ vaccination status or obtaining proof of a negative test within 72 hours by Oct. 7. This rule applies to any ticketed gathering of at least 10,000 people, which includes theme parks as well as sports arenas and concert halls.

Ferrer noted that the rules are similar to ones from the state that take effect Monday applying to all indoor events with more than 1,000 attendees.

For nightclub venues, no negative tests will be accepted, only proof of vaccine. Patrons will need to have at least one dose by Oct. 7 and be fully vaccinated by Nov. 4, though children under 12 are exempt, Ferrer said.

The public health director said the new order will position the county to “break the cycle of surges” that could make room for more dangerous virus variants to emerge.

“There's no way we want to go into the late fall and winter with high rates of transmission,” she said. “We've seen the seasonality of this virus in the past, and we cannot afford in this county another surge like what we saw last year.”

The nightlife rules don’t apply to restaurants, although Ferrer encouraged all eateries to begin requiring proof of vaccination indoors.

Public health officials said toolkits will be available for businesses Friday, providing guidance on how to verify vaccinations, how to verify testing and how to make sure people know how to go get tested.

Despite the stricter guidelines for crowded outdoor spaces and nightlife venues, no masking requirements will be rolled back. Health officials view them as an added layer of protection that’s still necessary with a high rate of virus transmission in the county.  

As of Sept. 12, 76% of all eligible L.A. County residents had at least one dose of vaccine. But of all the county’s 10.3 million residents, only about 58% were fully vaccinated.

Ferrer is hopeful that L.A. County’s new order, the latest in a series of local and federal vaccine mandates, will increase vaccination coverage in the coming weeks while also lowering risk of infection.

“These are becoming a critical part of policy strategies for preventing future surges of COVID,” she said.

Both the Los Angeles Unified and Culver City school districts have mandated that all eligible students get vaccinated against the coronavirus, adding it to a list of other shots required to attend school.

All Los Angeles County health care workers have also been ordered to be fully vaccinated by the end of this month, and all county employees by Oct. 1. City of L.A. workers, meanwhile, must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 5.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden also ordered all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly.

The city of L.A. is also finalizing an ordinance that would require proof of vaccination for anyone entering indoor public spaces like restaurants, gyms, stores and movie theaters.

In West Hollywood, a measure that would require vaccine proof in high-risk settings like bars, restaurants and gyms is pending ratification.

The latest L.A. County data shows unvaccinated older adults are nearly 17 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their vaccinated counterparts.

It’s especially important for older adults to get vaccinated, as even then they’re at higher risk of serious illness if infected than unvaccinated younger people, Ferrer said.  

Meanwhile, fewer than 1% of fully vaccinated people have tested positive for the virus.

This week the virus’ rate of spread in L.A. County is around where it was last week, but overall case rates and hospitalizations are trending down from where they were last month. Still, dozens of deaths are being reported each day, “and these losses are extraordinarily difficult,” Ferrer said.

The county’s high transmission rate is still being driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which continues to account for 100% of all cases sequenced in the region.

Ferrer said no new cases have been detected of either the lambda or mu variants, after officials last week announced they’d discovered the strains had been spreading in the area earlier this summer.

Suspected driver arrested in Playa del Rey hit-and-run that left Downey mother dead

A suspected hit-and-run driver was arrested Wednesday after a crash in Playa del Rey over the weekend killed a mother who’d been visiting the beach with her family, officials said.

Darwin Dantzler, 39, was arrested Wednesday morning, said Mike Lopez, a media relations officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. Lopez was unable to provide further details on the circumstances of Dantzler’s arrest.

Booking records show Dantzler was being held on $50,000 bail following his arrest around 11:30 a.m.

He’s accused in the crash that killed 33-year-old Downey resident Wendy Galdamez around 11 p.m. Saturday on the 8800 block of Vista del Mar, a busy street that runs along the beach.

She’d spent the day at the beach with her husband and two children, and was cradling her 3-year-old son when she was hit by a dark-colored Toyota 4Runner, relatives said.

Galdamez died at the scene, while her son was hospitalized but will recover, officials said.

Loved ones have created a GoFundMe campaign to help the family through the grieving process. It had raised more than $6,000 of its $7,000 goal by Wednesday night.

Investigators have not said how Dantzler was connected to the crash.

He’s scheduled to appear in court Jan. 12, inmate records show.

Mu and lambda COVID variants were in L.A. County earlier than thought, but delta crowded them out

A review of coronavirus specimens collected in Los Angeles County shows the mu and lambda variants were circulating earlier this summer, but the delta variant remains dominant, officials said Friday.

The highly contagious delta has “crowded out all of the other previously circulating strains,” now accounting for 100% of all strains sequenced in L.A. County, said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.

But when the lab that sequences the cases re-analyzed samples with an updated version of the genetic library used to identify variants, it reclassified many older specimens as mu or lambda variants.

The county is now reporting a total of 232 cases linked to the mu variant so far, while last week it had said 167 cases were identified to date. Another 28 cases were linked to the lambda variant.

“Most of these specimens were actually collected earlier in the summer, even though this report was just made available in the past week,” Ferrer explained.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t consider either the lambda or mu to be variants of concern or interest, the World Health Organization does because they’ve fueled spread in other parts of the world.

Mu was a dominant strain in Colombia earlier this year, and in lab studies appeared more vaccine resistant than previous strains, but it has been outstripped by the delta variant in the U.S.

The lambda strain, meanwhile, has not resurged since peaking globally in early July. But Ferrer said the county will continue to monitor sequences isolated from cases in the region.

Public health officials remain concerned that new, potentially more dangerous strains could develop if L.A. County’s vaccination rate doesn’t increase.

As of Sept. 5, 66% of residents 12 and older were fully vaccinated, an increase of one percentage point over the previous week.

“We are making very little progress increasing vaccination coverage among our residents,” Ferrer said. “In order to avoid the cycle of surges every few months, we do need to see a significant increase in the vaccination coverage.”

Public health officials say they’re still working to send mobile teams into Black and Latino communities with lower vaccine coverage, and they hope numbers will rise after this week’s vaccine mandate from the L.A. Unified School District and President Joe Biden’s order that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly.

In L.A. County, unvaccinated adults 50 and older are more than 17 times more likely to be hospitalized than their vaccinated counterparts, while unvaccinated 18- to 49-year-olds are hospitalized at a rate 23 times higher.

And in July and August, unvaccinated people were 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who were vaccinated, Ferrer said.

The county reported more than 2,000 new infections and 50 additional deaths for Friday.

Virus transmission in the county remains at a high level, according to thresholds set by the CDC. But the seven-day case rate of 104 new cases per 100,000 residents is a 35% decrease from the previous week, and a nearly 50% decrease from Aug. 19.

“These recent declines may reflect the masking requirements implemented early in the surge and the small increases in our vaccination coverage,” Ferrer said, adding that parts of the country without mask mandates aren’t seeing such steep declines.

The health director warned that it’s possible reported infections will tick up again following Labor Day celebrations and with more testing and intermingling in schools and workplaces.

Ex-EDD employee previously convicted of benefits fraud to plead guilty in COVID relief scam

A Perris woman who previously served time for defrauding the California Employment Development Department while working for the state agency will admit to her role in another scheme that netted more than $1.6 million in pandemic relief funds, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Gabriela Llerenas, aka “Maria G. Sandoval,” 49, will plead guilty to one count of mail fraud under an agreement with prosecutors filed Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said in a news release.

Llerenas formerly worked at the state EDD handling disability insurance claims, but she resigned in March 2002 after admitting to authorizing and paying out bogus disability benefits. She was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison in that case, prosecutors said.

In the latest scam, Llerenas is accused of being involved in the filing of almost 200 fake claims for coronavirus-related jobless aid.

Llerenas allegedly exploited expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance under the CARES Act, which was meant to help people who didn’t usually qualify like business owners, self-employed workers and independent contractors.

Prosecutors say the fraudulent claims filed from April to October last year often stated the person worked as a cake decorator or event attendant, or in another profession that struggled because of the pandemic.

California struggled to process the millions of claims submitted as businesses statewide were suddenly shuttered by stay-at-home orders. The state has acknowledged the Employment Development Department was bilked out of hundreds of millions of dollars that went to fraudsters, including inmates.

Llerenas admitted that she sometimes filed at least a dozen bogus EDD claims a day. She used her prior work as a tax preparer to access the names, Social Security numbers and other information she used for claimants, officials said.

The claims she filed resulted in the EDD authorizing Bank of America to mail 197 debit cards to addresses Llerenas listed, which included her home, her husband’s business, her mother’s apartment and the homes of other relatives and friends, according to prosecutors.

In some cases people paid her to file an application, and often the money was skimmed from the illegally obtained aid. She told at least one person she still worked for the EDD and demanded more money for “releasing” the benefits, court documents show.

Llerenas is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 22.

If convicted as charged, she could face up to 20 years in federal prison.

LAX and SoFi Stadium look to hire more than 5,000 with job fair in Inglewood Thursday

The Los Angeles International Airport and SoFi Stadium are looking to fill more than 5,000 job openings with a hiring fair this Thursday — and some job-seekers will get hired on the spot, the airport said.

The job fair will take place Sept. 9 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Inglewood stadium, located at 1001 S. Stadium Drive. SoFi Stadium is also hosting additional hiring events this month, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, on Sept. 14, 16, 21, 23, 28 and 30.

More than 45 different companies based at LAX and the stadium will be there Thursday looking to hire, with jobs in areas including airlines, concessions, retail, administration, construction, security, food services and hospitality, the airport said in a news release.

Interviews will be conducted at Thursday’s event, and anyone who pre-registers will get access to online job readiness training and resources like resume and interview tips, officials said.

Representatives from the state Employment Development Department and city of L.A.’s WorkSource Centers will also be on hand at the hiring fair.

LAX is the world’s third-busiest airport and second-busiest in the U.S. It generates more than 620,000 jobs in Southern California, the airport said, citing a study based on 2014 operations.

SoFi Stadium, meanwhile, says it’s committed to being a 100% union job site and has set aside apprenticeship opportunities to help city of Inglewood residents gain experience.

"Behind the scenes of every concert, sporting event and vacation is an individual whose role contributes to the creation of memorable experiences," said Crolyn Hull, general manager for the city of L.A.’s Economic and Workforce Development Department. "This job fair represents an opportunity to restore lost jobs and illuminate options for job training that can lead to new careers."

Officials say COVID-19 safety guidelines will be in place at Thursday’s event, including mandatory masking and physical distancing.

More than 1,500 people were registered for the event as of Saturday.

Anyone interested in attending can click here to register. Questions may be directed to businessandjobs@lawa.org.

Domestic violence suspect wounded in shootout with Monterey Park police in East L.A.: Officials

Monterey Park police tracked a domestic violence suspect to East Los Angeles, where the man was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with officers Friday.

The shooting occurred shortly before 2 p.m. on Rowan Avenue, just south of Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the incident.

Monterey Park police had earlier responded to a report of domestic violence involving a man who brandished a gun. But by the time officers got to the scene, the suspect had already left in a red SUV, investigators said.

Sheriff’s officials said Monterey Park officers had interacted with the man before, and he was known to frequent the East L.A. area.

Police were able to locate the man driving on Rowan Avenue in his SUV and pulled him over.

The man got out of his vehicle with a gun in his hand and ran, and at least one officer opened fire at him, authorities said. It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted to use of lethal force.

The man then began exchanging gunfire with another officer as he fled, officials said.

He continued running through an alley, where he tossed his gun and tried to get into a bystander’s car before collapsing and being taken into custody, according to investigators.

Paramedics took the man to the hospital, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound to the upper torso. Deputies said he was expected to survive.

A gun was recovered at the scene, and authorities are continuing to investigate.

2 wounded in Long Beach shooting; suspects at large

Multiple assailants were sought after two people were shot in Long Beach Friday evening, officials said.

Officers responded to gunfire around 6:15 p.m. at the corner of Orange Avenue and Market Street, said Arantxa Chavarria, a public information officer for Long Beach police.

Authorities found two gunshot victims, and both were transported to a local hospital, Chavarria said.

Video from the scene showed a vendor’s cart was within the area taped off for investigation at the corner of the intersection.

The assailants ran from the scene before police arrived, but Chavarria said officers were still searching the area and detectives were responding to investigate.

No suspect descriptions or further details were available.

1 fatally shot by police after pursuit in Buena Park

A person involved in a pursuit was shot and killed by police in Buena Park Friday, officials said.

There weren’t immediately many details on the shooting, which Buena Park police said occurred in the area of Orangethorpe and Knott avenues. The intersection, just north of the 91 Freeway, is lined with several restaurants and other businesses.

Police have only said that one person involved with the pursuit was killed by police gunfire. No one else war hurt.

Aerial footage of the scene showed police vehicles surrounding a white utility pickup in a parking lot that was blocked off for investigation. 

Authorities were expected to release further details at a press conference scheduled for 6 p.m.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

With delta variant circulating, L.A. County will need more than 80% vaccinated to reach herd immunity

With the highly contagious delta variant still predominant in Los Angeles County, public health officials say the region will no longer reach herd immunity against the coronavirus once 80% of eligible residents are vaccinated.  

Initially, public health Director Barbara Ferrer projected L.A. County could get 80% of those eligible vaccinated and reach herd immunity by late July. But that was in May, and dependent on vaccinations keeping up at the same rate.

The projected date was repeatedly pushed back as vaccinations lagged, and in June Ferrer said she didn’t expect the county could reach its goal before fall as the delta variant took hold in the region.

Now, the delta variant accounts for 99% of all cases sequenced in the county, and researchers are still trying to determine the effectiveness of each vaccine against the highly contagious variant.

“I think delta has scrambled everything, mostly because it's so much more infectious,” Ferrer said in a briefing Thursday.

L.A. County is still short of even the 80% vaccination rate goal. Ferrer said currently 75% of residents 16 and over have at least one dose, and 65% of residents 12 and over are fully vaccinated.

Ferrer didn't say what vaccination rate she thinks the county now needs to reach herd immunity, but she said there still aren’t enough people coming in each week to get a shot.

Current data shows a little over 63,000 doses were administered across the county from Aug. 16 to Aug. 22, though she noted that figure could rise anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 doses due to reporting lags. Still, that wouldn’t be enough.

“In order to avoid the cycles of surges, we do need to see this number rise significantly if we're to take a different path through the coming months,” Ferrer said.

County officials want to focus on reaching more Black residents under age 50 and Latinos younger than 16, both groups that have vaccination rates below 50%.

“It's not a coincidence that the communities with the lowest vaccination uptake are the ones who have historically had the lowest access to high-quality, affirming, respectful medical care,” Ferrer said. “And while repairing the damage caused by structural racism will not happen overnight, we need to see faster gains to turn around the disproportionality in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”

Health officials are continuing to operate mobile vaccination teams in an effort to reach underserved communities where people aren’t yet vaccinated.

The delta variant is more easily spread between people, “likely due to its faster replication, higher viral load and greater affinity for lower respiratory tract cells when compared with earlier COVID strains,” Ferrer said.

And while vaccines do offer protection from severe infection, even vaccinated people can become infected with the delta variant and spread it — making a high vaccination rate more important than ever to protect those who are ineligible for a vaccine.

Ferrer noted that even though the county’s test positivity rate is currently relatively low, its case numbers and rates remain relatively high. That means even though there’s less transmission in general, more people are getting infected because the delta variant can spread to more people at once.

Ferrer said her concern is that with a good amount of people remaining unvaccinated, there can be room for more transmission as well as the development of new, and potentially even more dangerous, mutations.

“Without enough people getting vaccinated very rapidly, we could get another cycle later on in the fall or early winter caused by even another variant,” she said. “We have to be super careful.”

COVID outbreaks expected to increase at L.A. County schools; nearly half so far tied to sports

Outbreaks at school campuses are on the rise since Los Angeles County students returned for in-person learning this month, with unvaccinated students and those involved in school sports at higher risk, public health officials said Wednesday.

Three outbreaks a week were reported over the first few weeks of August, but last week the figure increased to eight outbreaks involving 72 students and three staff member, said L.A. County public health Director Barbara Ferrer, who called the early data “sobering.”

“We anticipate that there'll be an upward trend in outbreaks as more schools reopen,” she said.

A total of 5,207 student cases and 729 staff cases were reported from Aug. 15 to Aug. 29, with a vast majority of the cases at L.A. Unified campuses, which test everyone weekly.

Of the campus outbreaks so far this academic year, 47% were connected to sports teams.

The latest outbreak figures mirror trends from last October and November, when the county was entering the devastating winter surge, Ferrer said.

In all, 849 schools reported one positive case, 193 LAUSD schools and 105 campuses in other districts reported two cases, and 621 LAUSD schools and 94 other school sites reported three or more cases.

Ferrer noted that an instance of three or more cases at one school is only considered an outbreak if the cases are linked to each other.

Among those eligible, unvaccinated children 4 times more likely to get COVID

Case rates have risen among children in all age groups since the beginning of July, and they’re increasing most rapidly among those ages 5 to 11 — school-aged children who are not eligible for a vaccine.

Over the two weeks between Aug. 14 and Aug. 21, the case rate increased 50% in this age group, while the rate increased 13% among children 4 and younger, and 24% among children 12 to 17. Data shows case rates are continuing to increase in those ages 5 to 11 while dropping among other age groups, Ferrer said.

Among kids at least 12 years old, case rates are lowest among those who are vaccinated, while unvaccinated children are four times more likely to get infected, according to the public health director.

There are 57 cases among every 100,000 vaccinated children, compared to 480 cases among every 100,000 teens who are unvaccinated. Hospitalizations, likewise, are eight times higher in unvaccinated children.

But while many other areas nationwide have reported pediatric hospitalizations are higher than at any other point in the pandemic, L.A. County has not seen a similar trend. Pediatric hospitalization rates are higher now than they were in the spring and early summer, but they're still nowhere near what they were during the winter surge, Ferrer said.

“This pattern may reflect the fact that many adults are vaccinated, and most people are wearing masks when around people outside their household, including children,” she said. “Both of these steps may be playing an important role in protecting our children.”

But Ferrer noted that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, and “we're going to need to carefully watch the case rates among children over the upcoming weeks.”

Officials seek to ramp up vaccination to better protect ineligible students

As of Aug. 29, 48% of L.A. County teens 12 to 15 years old were fully vaccinated, and 60% had received at least one dose. Meanwhile, 57% of 16- and 17-year-olds were fully vaccinated, and 68% partially vaccinated.

“The most powerful strategy we have for keeping schools open is getting these numbers within the range of 100%,” Ferrer said.

Meanwhile, officials estimate that 81% of public school district staff members have received at least one dose, said L.A. County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo.

Officials are ramping up efforts to increase vaccine access at schools, opening 375 mobile vaccine clinics on campuses. Duardo said more will open over the next two months in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Three school districts — L.A. Unified, Culver City Unified and Glendale Unified — are mandating vaccines for staff and routinely testing those with religious or medical exemptions, while another eight districts are considering such a mandate.

So far, only Culver City Unified has implemented a vaccine mandate for eligible students. Duardo had said another two districts — Palmdale and ABC Unified in Cerritos — were considering one, but L.A. County education officials later said those plans were scrapped.

According to Duardo, an additional 13 districts are considering a mandate for students eligible to get a vaccine.

Out of the 80 public school districts countywide, all but two are accepting federal funding to support widespread testing, and 29 of them already have such a program in place, Duardo said.

Meanwhile, 55 individual charter schools and 20 charter management organizations have accepted the testing funding. Combined, that represents a total of 131 individual charter schools implementing testing, and 125 of them already have programs operating.

“In so many ways, the most important task in front of us right now is to do everything we can to keep children, teachers and staff safe at their schools,” Ferrer said. “If we work together to take care of each other, I know we have a better chance of being successful.”