On July 2 of 2020, when the initial spring surge of Covid-19 was fading, local elected officials across Southern California ordered virtually every beach shut down from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Cities around California cancelled fireworks displays. Governor Gavin Newsom closed bars and mandated masks in public spaces. What officials couldn’t stop, however, were household gatherings and travel over the Fourth of July weekend.
The result was a more than 150% increase in new daily cases from 570 on July 1, 2020 to 1,476 on August 2, 2020. Health officials linked the rise to gatherings held across the long weekend.
One year later, the beaches and bars are open for the Fourth. Fireworks displays are a go. Masks are no longer mandated in public. And health officials are worried.
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“Another wave could become a very real possibility,” said Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday. “It’s still unclear to us whether the people vaccinated with the vaccines in the United States can transmit the Delta variant. Until more is known, individuals should add a layer of protection.” That layer of protection Ferrer referenced is a mask.
Last Monday, Ferrer’s department made national headlines when it backtracked on its own Covid guidelines, “strongly” recommending masking in all indoor public places, due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant. The World Health Organization did likewise.
Another 549 new Covid-19 infections were reported in Los Angeles County on Friday. That’s the largest number since mid-April of this year and the second straight day the figure has topped 500. It prompted more calls for residents to get vaccinated and exercise caution over the Fourth of July weekend.
That 549 is more than double the average daily number the county was reporting in mid-June of this year, when the state and county virus restrictions were lifted. Even more striking, it’s nearly identical to the 570 new daily cases reported on July 2, 2020. There are some differences, however.
Chief among those are the vaccines. Nearly 60% percent of eligible L.A. County residents were fully inoculated as of July 1. That’s far better than the 47% of the national population that is fully inoculated. But 4 million of the county’s 10 million residents are still not vaccinated, many of them children. That’s because vaccines are only approved for Americans over 12 years old.
While children have been less susceptible to Covid infections thusfar, the Delta variant is thought to be 60% more transmissible. It’s also thought to cause more severe symptoms.
In late June, Israel reinstated indoor mask requirements due to the variant’s spread. According to the Wall Street Journal, “About half of adults infected in an outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Israel were fully inoculated with the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.” Israel is one of the most highly-vaccinated countries in the world, with about 80% of citizens over 16 fully inoculated.
The country’s number of new daily cases produced by the outbreak was only 200, but that was up from 10 daily cases seen through most of June. Delta seemed to be plowing through the immunity provided by the vaccine and afflicting those with stronger immune systems, as well. According the the WSJ, “Children under 16, most of whom haven’t been vaccinated, accounted for about half of those infected.”
A similar scenario has played out in the U.K. A recent study by the Imperial College London found that, as infections surged in early June, the increase was driven by mostly unvaccinated young people; Those who had been assumed to be less susceptible. The study found 5-fold higher rate of test positivity among children 5 to 12 years and adults 18 to 24 than in those 65 or older.
It’s not just cases that have been inching up in L.A. The 7-day average rate of people testing positive for the virus remains very low at just 1.3%. In early July of 2020 it was 10%. But the trend in 2021 is not good.
Test positivity has been moving upward over the past month. Test positivity has more than quadrupled from a low of 0.3% seen the first week of June. It’s up over 50% in the past week alone. That trend is occurring even as daily testing numbers — until this week — were plummeting. That could indicate an even larger rise in infections hidden by the smaller number of tests.
Hospitalizations due to Covid-19 have been on the rise, as well, even though they dipped slightly on Friday, with state figures showing 275 virus patients in the county, down from 280 on Thursday. That was up from 275 on Wednesday and 255 on Tuesday. There were 72 patients in intensive care due to Covid, down from 74 on Thursday. Los Angeles County reported five more Covid deaths on Friday, raising the countywide death toll from the virus to 24,492.
“Whenever we see a doubling of cases and a quadrupling of test positivity over a short period of time, we are reminded of how easily the virus can spread,” said Ferrer.
The Delta variant is believed to be responsible for more than 26% of current infections in the United States. Ferrer said Thursday 245 cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in the county, nearly double the number from last week. Given the expense, the county conducts only a limited number of the sequencing tests needed to identify the variants. Even with the small numbers, Delta has become the most dominant variant detected in the county.
Given its increasing prevalence among identified variants in the county, Ferrer said, it’s clear there is “increasing circulation” of Delta in the county.
She again stressed that existing vaccines provide strong protection against the variant, but breakthrough infections of people who are fully vaccinated do happen. And those people — while at low risk of becoming seriously ill — could potentially spread the infection to others, especially the county’s millions of unvaccinated kids.
Statewide, cases averaged over 1,000 last week for the first time since May. On Friday, the daily number of new infections rose to 1,792, a count California has not seen in months. Test positivity also rose from a low of .7% in early June to 1.5% on Friday. That led Governor Gavin Newsom to tweet his own pre-Fourth warning and a plea for Californians to get vaccinated.
We know the Delta Variant is contagious — and is on the rise.
We know our hospitalizations are creeping up — and most of the patients are unvaccinated.
We also know the science is clear — getting vaccinated protects you AND those around you.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) July 2, 2021