As L.A. Appears To Gain Some Herd Immunity, Experts Seem Optimistic
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 10: A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Jesus Huerta outside the Los Angeles Mission located in the Skid Row community on February 10, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Department of Health's Housing for Health division administered the doses to a select group of eligible people including unhoused seniors. Skid Row is home to thousands of people who either live on the streets or in shelters for the homeless. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images via Getty Images

As coronavirus cases drop around the country, there is a new sense of optimism coming out of Los Angeles county. According to reporting by the L.A. Times on Saturday, “Many epidemiologists and other scientists, while still cautious, say they feel increasingly hopeful that the rest of 2021 will not replay the nightmare of last year.”

Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’re going to see a big fourth surge. … I think we’ve seen the worst of it.”

Experts say that the coming of the spring season will also allow for people to be outside and make it less likely for the virus to spread.

12% of Americans have reportedly received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but Offit estimated that approximately 35% of the United States’ population has been previously infected.

UC San Francisco epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford said that one of the factors as to why cases are dropping so rapidly in California “is because of naturally acquired immunity, mostly in Southern California.” He reportedly estimated that 50% of Los Angeles County residents have been infected with the virus at some point.

“We’re really talking something starting to sound and look like herd immunity — although that true herd immunity is a ways off in the future,” Rutherford said.

Herd immunity is something that is achieved when a certain amount of people have immunity to a virus, making the virus unable to find new hosts and spread. This results in a community-wide level of protection.

According to the L.A. Times, scientists believe that the threshold for herd immunity could be 90% with this coronavirus. The U.S. has not met this yet, but experts say that each step toward it slows down the transmission of the virus.

The L.A. Times reports:

The effects may be greatest in places that endured the worst COVID-19 surges, including Los Angeles. After a horrific autumn and winter wave that has killed more than 12,000 people, an estimated 33% to 55% of county residents have already been infected with the coronavirus, according to USC researchers.

New daily cases in L.A. County have been falling for five weeks, and previous infections have helped this occur, providing enough of an effect to blunt the spread of the virus, according to Dr. Roger Lewis, director of COVID-19 hospital demand modeling for the L.A. County Department of Health Services.

“If you had the exact same behavior and type of virus circulating that we have right now, but we were at the beginning of the pandemic and no one was immune yet … we’d be in the midst of an ongoing surge,” he said. “The fact that cases are going down right now, as opposed to going up, is because approximately a third of everybody in Los Angeles County is immune to COVID.”

The L.A. Times reporting adds that new variants of the virus could undermine the positive projections, “either by proving more resistant to existing vaccines or by finding a way to spread more easily. Shifts in behavior could also render this good news moot, as it holds only if people stick to the precautions they have been taking thus far, experts say.”

L.A. County chief science officer Dr. Paul Simon made the point that 60% of Angelenos would remain susceptible even if more than a third have already been infected with the virus.

“I don’t want to provide a false sense of assurance here,” said Simon. “Unless they’ve had vaccination, they continue to be susceptible. I think we need to continue to be vigilant.”

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