Los Angeles Times

L.A.’s COVID death rate tops S.F.’s by 70%

More poverty in the Southland and wider vaccinatio­n in the Bay Area are seen as possible reasons.

- By Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money

With Los Angeles County set to decide in the coming days whether to impose a new mask mandate, one factor of note is a rise in coronaviru­s deaths.

L.A. County’s weekly COVID-19 death rate is significan­tly higher than that of the San Francisco Bay Area. On a per-capita basis, L.A. County was recording 96 deaths a week for every 10 million residents, while the Bay Area was recording 56 deaths a week for every 10 million residents.

In other words, L.A. County’s latest weekly COVID-19 death rate is more than 70% higher than the rate in the Bay Area.

The two regions’ death rates had been closer to each other through parts of June. But something changed in July, and there was a dramatic rise in L.A. County’s death rate not matched by that in the Bay Area.

There are various reasons that could explain why L.A. County has a higher death rate. The nation’s most populous county, L.A. County is structural­ly at higher risk from COVID-19 waves due to a higher rate of poverty and overcrowde­d housing.

Additional­ly, vaccinatio­n and booster rates are generally higher in the Bay Area, and anecdotall­y, some have observed that voluntary masking seems more common in the Bay Area than in L.A. County.

Since the start of the pandemic, L.A. County has been among the hardest-hit counties in California. Of the state’s 15 most populous counties, L.A. County has one of the worst cumulative COVID-19 death rates — about 3,200 dead for every million residents. (San Bernardino County has an even worse rate, of about 3,700 dead for every million residents.)

By contrast, the Bay Area’s cumulative death rate is far lower than that of L.A. County. The Bay Area’s cumulative death rate is roughly 1,200 dead for every million residents.

L.A. County could impose a new universal indoor mask mandate for public settings as soon as Friday, although Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has

raised the possibilit­y of postponing such a decision should pandemic conditions significan­tly improve in the coming days.

The Bay Area is not currently publicly considerin­g a mask mandate.

When Ferrer was asked at a news briefing last week why her agency’s approach to a possible mask mandate differed from that of other counties in the state, she pointed to factors that have left L.A. County particular­ly vulnerable, including its size and population of 10 million, 2 million of whom remain unvaccinat­ed.

The county is also home to many older residents generally at higher risk of severe health outcomes from COVID-19, as well as nursing homes and industrial work settings where transmissi­on can be particular­ly problemati­c.

Data also continue to show that COVID-19 is taking a disproport­ionate toll on Black and Latino residents as well as people living in poorer areas of L.A. County.

“Getting transmissi­on levels down low benefits everybody, but it particular­ly reduces risks for those most vulnerable,” Ferrer said.

In L.A. County, hospitaliz­ation rates have grown much faster in recent weeks for older residents.

“When people pass along misinforma­tion that the current COVID surge is not affecting or hurting anyone, these are the people they are dismissing: our elders,” Ferrer said.

Weekly coronaviru­s cases are showing early signs of a decrease in Los Angeles County, but it’s too soon to say whether it’s a blip or the beginning of a sustained trend.

As of Monday afternoon, L.A. County was averaging about 6,100 coronaviru­s cases a day over the previous week, down 11% from the prior week’s average of nearly 6,900 cases a day. On a per-capita basis, the latest rate is 425 cases a week for every 100,000 residents. A case rate of 100 or more is considered high.

This is the largest weekover-week decline in cases in a month. But the future remains uncertain. A similar decline in mid-June ended up being temporary, only to be followed by more weeks of even steeper increases in cases.

The coming days will probably be critical in determinin­g whether L.A. County implements a mask mandate starting Friday.

Ferrer said last week that if a steep decline in cases emerges this week, her agency is likely to pause the implementa­tion of a universal mask order for indoor public settings.

Officials also are closely watching to see whether the rate of new weekly coronaviru­s-positive hospital admissions improves.

A key metric that would determine whether L.A. County remains headed toward a mask mandate is whether there are 10 or more new weekly coronaviru­spositive hospital admissions for every 100,000 residents. L.A. County on Thursday reported the rate was 11.4.

Citing new data available through Saturday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that rate had fallen to exactly 10.

Throughout this late spring and summer pandemic wave, most public health officials in Bay Area counties have not publicly suggested the need for a renewed local mask mandate. The lone exception, Alameda County, rescinded its own mask mandate three weeks after implementi­ng it on June 3.

Because the other highly populated Bay Area counties did not join with Alameda County’s decision, its mask mandate attracted significan­tly less attention in the Bay Area.

Since the beginning of May, L.A. County’s COVID-19 death rate over a 12-week period has grown to far exceed that of the Bay Area.

From May 1 through Friday, L.A. County has recorded 664 COVID-19 deaths, and the Bay Area, 389 deaths. On a per capita basis, that means — over this 12-week period — L.A. County has recorded 658 deaths for every 10 million residents, while the Bay Area has reported 464 deaths for every 10 million residents.

In other words, if L.A. County had the Bay Area’s death rate, L.A. County would have recorded nearly 30% fewer deaths — about 200 fewer fatalities — over the last 12 weeks.

And if the Bay Area had L.A. County’s death rate, the Bay Area would’ve had more than 40% more deaths — about an additional 160 fatalities — over the same time period.

The calculatio­ns for the Bay Area include nine counties adjacent to the San Francisco Bay and also Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, which matches the state Department of Public Health’s definition for the region.

 ?? Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times ?? L.A. COUNTY was recording 96 deaths a week for every 10 million residents, while the Bay Area’s rate was 56 deaths for every 10 million residents. Above, some shoppers mask up at bustling Santee Alley market in L.A.
Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times L.A. COUNTY was recording 96 deaths a week for every 10 million residents, while the Bay Area’s rate was 56 deaths for every 10 million residents. Above, some shoppers mask up at bustling Santee Alley market in L.A.

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