LA County urges flu shots to reduce hospital demand during COVID-19 pandemic

(Photo by Rick Friedman/ via Getty Images)

Los Angeles County health officials again recommended flu shots for all in hopes of avoiding a surge of hospital demand due to influenza and COVID-19.

And with another weekend starting, they urged residents not to misuse new health guidelines allowing small gatherings.

The county Department of Public Health amended its coronavirus health order this week, bringing it in line with state guidance and allowing gatherings of up to three households for private get-togethers. The change was a major departure from earlier guidance calling on residents to avoid associating with anyone outside their own household.

"As we enter the weekend, we remind residents that, if they are planning a private gathering, limit it to just your household and two others, and, in the foreseeable future, create a stable group with these households,'' public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.

"All private gatherings must be outdoors,'' she said. "Wear a cloth face covering and practice physical distancing of at least 6 feet at all times, and do not share food with other households. Limit your visit to no more than two hours and do not attend a private gathering if you are not feeling well. We all can take these steps to enjoy friends and family as safely as possible.''

The county's top health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, said Thursday the change in policy -- while originated by the state -- was an acknowledgement that such small gatherings were already occurring, despite health orders barring them.

Davis said changing the health order was a chance for county officials to at least establish some guidelines for such meetings in hopes of limiting virus spread.

But the change came at a time when the county has seen rising daily COVID-19 case numbers and an uptick in the transmission rate, indicating a likely increase in future cases barring major behavioral changes and stricter adherence to health guidelines such as wearing face coverings.

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information

In order to move out of the most restrictive tier of the state's four-tier coronavirus economic-reopening roadmap, the county needs to get its daily average new case numbers down to about 700. In the past week, however, the number has been regularly topping 1,200.

On Friday, the county reported a seemingly lower 1,072 new cases, but officials said that figure is an "undercount due to a technical issue with the state's data reporting system.'' The extent of that problem was not immediately known.

The new cases lifted the countywide cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 287,222.

The county also announced another 27 coronavirus-related deaths, increasing the overall total to 6,855.

A total of 735 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Friday, up from 723 on Thursday, 720 on Wednesday, 692 on Tuesday, 693 on Monday
and 715 on Sunday.

Although coronavirus hospitalizations have been generally trending downward since July, health officials still fear a potential spike in hospital demand if the region experiences a severe flu season while the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging.

Davis, the county health officer, outlined plans Thursday for the county to provide vaccinations for the homeless and residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities. But the county in a statement Friday stressed the need for all residents to get immunized against the flu to prevent a so-called "twin-demic'' of influenza and COVID-19.

"Every year, tens of thousands of people nationwide are hospitalized or die from flu-related illness,'' according to a statement from the Department of Public Health.

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"Considering the toll COVID-19 has had on our communities and our healthcare system, now more than ever it is important to be protected from influenza by getting immunized. Immunizations are safe and provide protection against the harmful effects of influenza and can also help keep people out of the hospital freeing up critical hospital resources.''

Health officials everyone 6 months old and older should be immunized, particularly those at high risk of becoming seriously ill, such as pregnant
women, children, people over 65 and those with chronic medical conditions.