Los Angeles County reported 700 new cases of the coronavirus and 23 additional deaths on Saturday, March 27, as health officials warned that spring break and upcoming religious holidays present a danger of greater transmission of the virus.

The number of COVID-19 patients in county hospitals declined slightly from 676 on Friday to 669, with the number of those is intensive care dropping from 170 to 166, according to state figures.

Saturday’s numbers brought county’s totals to 1,217,707 cases and 23,078 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“As we approach spring break and numerous religious and spiritual holidays, it important to remember that travel and gathering in-person with others increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the department said. “While COVID-19 numbers have decreased in L.A. County, transmission remains widespread and is increasing in many other states and countries.”

Anyone who is arriving in Los Angeles County from outside the state must self-quarantine for 10 days, officials added.

Meanwhile, with vaccine eligibility expanding next week to all residents aged 50 and over, a county health official is warning that getting an appointment for a shot will initially be difficult due to continued scarcity of vaccine supplies, but he said the situation will improve.

The county next week is actually set to receive its largely weekly allotment of vaccine to date — 338,100 doses — and tens of thousands more doses will be sent directly to other local vaccination providers, such as pharmacies and health care centers.

But when eligibility expands to those 50 and over on Thursday, it will add an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people to the pool of residents competing for limited doses. That’s on top of the millions of people who are already eligible for the shots.

“There will undoubtedly be a rush come April 1,” said Dr. Paul Simon, the health department’s chief science officer. “… I want to make sure the public recognizes that there may be challenges to getting an appointment immediately. It just, again, reflects the limited supply of vaccine.

“Even with an increased supply of vaccine, we certainly can’t handle a million people over that first week, given all the other groups that are also currently being vaccinated,” he said. “But I would expect over the following several weeks, the demand will diminish a bit and things will open up, particularly as the vaccine supply continues to increase. I encourage people to just be patient. If they’re not able to get an appointment immediately, wait a week or so and I believe things will be easier to navigate.”

It was unclear when people in the newly eligible group will be able to start making appointments on the state’s MyTurn website — which is the main clearinghouse for appointments. Simon noted that there are also separate appointment websites for other providers, such as local pharmacies, and there was no specific timeline on when they would start accepting appointments for the new group.

Eligibility will expand again on April 15, when everyone aged 16 and up will be able to receive the vaccine. Simon warned that of the three currently available vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in people under 18, so people aged 16 and 17 will have to ensure they make appointments at a Pfizer vaccination site.

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