LOS ANGELES (CNS) — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline, Los Angeles County health officials are urging residents to maintain infection-control measures such as face masks and social distancing — saying the region is in the “home stretch” but needs to reach the finish line.

The urging came Tuesday, Feb. 16, on a day the county celebrated its rate of new cases dropping enough to allow elementary schools to resume in-person instruction for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

“As we wait for more vaccinations, please follow the rules and use all the tools we have to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible from becoming infected,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Any time you’re out of your home and around others, we ask that you keep physical distance and wear a mask at all times. Wash your hands frequently. Please don’t gather with people you don’t live with.

“... Let’s commit to getting to the finish line of this pandemic the strongest way possible, by consistently doing the actions that prevent serious illness and save lives,” she said.

County Supervisor Hilda Solis added, “We're in the home stretch. We just have to see it through together.''

“We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “We've now seen that when we come together as a community to protect one another, we can have a significant impact on the spread of this pandemic and can begin safely reopening our schools and our local economy. But there’s still more work to be done. Although our numbers are significantly lower than our winter peak, they still remain concerningly high.”

The county reported another 120 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, while Long Beach health officials announced one more, lifting the overall death toll from throughout the pandemic to 19,216.

Another 1,260 cases were also confirmed, although the number is believed to be artificially low attributed to reporting lags from testing centers due to the long holiday weekend. Long Beach reported another 126 cases, while Pasadena added 12. The cases increased the cumulative countywide total since the pandemic began to 1,169,688.

According to state figures, there were 2,855 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday, with 876 people in intensive care.

That number is significantly down from the more than 8,000 patients reported in early January.

With vaccine supplies still limited, the county will reserve the majority of its available vaccinations this week to provide second doses for those ready to receive them, with county-operated large-scale sites exclusively administering second doses, health officials announced.

“The majority of appointments at our vaccinations sites will continue to be for second doses,” Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county, said on Feb. 12. “We will only be providing second doses at our Mega-POD (point of dispensing) sites.”

The county-operated Mega-PODs are at the Pomona Fairplex, Magic Mountain, the Forum, the county Office of Education in Downey and Cal State Northridge.

Simon said first doses will be available at other locations, primarily at health centers, pharmacies “and other providers that serve the areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city would be following a similar policy at its large-scale sites, including Dodger Stadium, which closed last week due to a vaccine shortage but reopened Tuesday.

The county has been receiving roughly 200,000 doses each week, although the actual amount has varied wildly week to week, making advance planning for reservations difficult.

The city is expected to receive just 54,000 doses of Moderna and 4,000 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines this week. Garcetti said local leaders continue to advocate for a larger supply, and first-dose appointments would become available if the city receives more doses.

Two new sites in LA county are offering first-dose appointments this week.

The first site opened Monday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, where appointments are available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this week. That site is a joint effort by Dignity Health, the LA Galaxy and Dignity Health Sports Park.

Another site opened Tuesday at Cal State Los Angeles, a joint effort by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of California.

Appointment for both sites can be made at myturn.ca.gov/.

The need for more vaccines will become more critical in coming weeks.

Vaccines are currently being offered to health care workers, people 65 and over, and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. The county plans on March 1 to make vaccines available to three classes of essential workers: education/child care; food and agriculture; and emergency services and law enforcement.

Making those groups eligible will add about 1.5 million people to the pool of residents seeking shots. The pool will expand further March 15, when the state has called for vaccines to be made available to anyone aged 16 or older with an underlying health condition that makes them particularly susceptible to severe illness or death from COVID.

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