Just a month ago, LA County was seeing consistent daily reports of new COVID-19 infections in the high 100s and very low 200s – wonderfully low numbers after our horrific winter surge – as we counted down to the big June 15 re-opening. Since then, however, the numbers have been creeping up again. A week ago, on July 2, the count was about double what it had been in recent weeks – 549 new cases. And now it’s apparently moving even faster…with 1,107 new cases reported on Friday, July 9 – the first time the number has topped 1,000 since March 11. Hospitalizations are also growing, and test positivity rates are rising, too – from 1.5% last week to 2.4% this Friday.
Officials attribute the new surge to the more virulent Delta variant of the virus, flattening vaccination rates, and perhaps July 4 holiday celebrations.
Here’s what the week looked like (with the lower numbers early in the week reflecting a lag in reporting over the July 4 holiday weekend):
LA County COVID Cases, Deaths & Hospitalizations - June 30-July 9
|Date||New Cases||Deaths||Current Hospitalizations|
Locally, we can see the surge starting, too – case count increases in the nine days from June 21-30 were very small, and in some neighborhoods non-existent, while increases were noticeably larger in the nine days from June 30-July 9. (Click on the graphic below to see a larger version.)
It’s important to note, however, that this surge does differ from others in the past. This time, the infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are affecting mostly unvaccinated residents, with rates still very low in those who are fully vaccinated.
The LA Times on Thursday noted that “There is widespread scientific consensus that fully vaccinated people have an excellent chance of being protected from severe illness or death from any coronavirus strain, including Delta. In both Los Angeles and San Diego counties over the past half-year, 99.8% of people who died from COVID-19 had not been inoculated.”
According to LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, in a press statement on Friday, “There are slightly under 4 million residents in L.A. County that are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, and the risk of increased spread remains high among communities with lower vaccination rates. This is particularly true if there are gatherings with unvaccinated friends and family in indoor settings. The need for masking and infection control among those not yet vaccinated remains important. This Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus spreads more easily than others. With vaccinations and good prevention measures, almost all of this transmission can be prevented.”
And the numbers do reflect the increased safety for vaccinated individuals. In a separate press release on Thursday, the County said:
“Among 4.6 million fully vaccinated people in L.A. County, Public Health identified 2,822 people who tested positive for a COVID-19 infection contracted more than two weeks after they were fully vaccinated. That means that about 0.06% of all fully vaccinated people tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 195 people, 0.004% of those fully vaccinated, were hospitalized for infections contracted while fully vaccinated. And 21 people died of their infections, 0.0004%. These numbers are very similar to the numbers seen last week.”
According to Ferrer:
“The data makes it increasingly clear that vaccines remain the most important tool we have to keep COVID-19 transmission and the incubation of variants low. Overall COVID-19 trends are going in the wrong direction for everyone, and are particularly concerning given the proliferation of the Delta variant. The most powerful way to protect those in hard-hit communities, many of whom are essential workers, is to close vaccination gaps.”
Currently, 68.8% of LA County residents have now received at least one doze of a vaccine (and 60% are fully vaccinated).
But to stem the latest surge, the vaccination numbers need to continue to rise. And, unfortunately, the rates at which people are being vaccinated (see gray line on the chart below) have actually plummeted since their peak in April, which means that our timeline for reaching assumed “herd immunity” (approximately 80% of residents vaccinated), is now stretching out toward the end of the year or later (the dotted blue line on the chart below).
So county officials are continuing to urge people who have not yet been vaccinated to get their shots, and the County is also continuing to run new incentive campaigns to reward those who do get the vaccine at a county-run site. This week’s program offers chances to win one of seven sets of tickets to upcoming concerts at Staples Center concert and the Hollywood Bowl.
There are currently 767 vaccination sites around LA County, with another 173 mobile teams targeting high-need and harder-hit areas. Most sites offer vaccinations without appointments, and many are open on both evenings and weekends. See http://www.vaccinatelacounty.com to find a site near you.
Meanwhile, with fall school openings just about a month away now, the CDC announced yesterday that it’s relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines for schools, and advised that students and teachers do not need to wear masks when classrooms re-open in August.
But not everyone welcomed the advice.
Johns Hopkins University public health professor Elizabeth Stuart, who has children in both elementary and middle school, was quoted in an LA Times story saying that going without masks is “probably going to make for some challenging school environments” and that “it would be a very weird dynamic, socially, to have some kids wearing masks and some not. And tracking that? Teachers shouldn’t need to be keeping track of which kids should have masks on.”
And Stuart wasn’t the only one with such doubts. A bit later yesterday, the state of California agreed with the more cautious sentiment, announcing it would retain indoor mask requirements for schools.
“Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction,” said California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly, quoted in a story in the LA Times. “At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated — treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.”
And the Times story also noted that LAUSD has not altered its mask policy: “All students, teachers and staff have been required to wear masks on campus even if they are vaccinated. This policy has been in place since schools began to reopen in April. The only exceptions are for students or others who have special health or physical reasons and are unable to wear a mask.”
And 1,094 cases today.
It was clear several weeks ago this was coming, e.g. on June 7 when Rt briskly rose above 1.0. Nobody who follows this stuff is the least surprised.
Hospitalizations also appear to have risen a bit.
The interesting question is, how far will they rise? Have we vaccinated enough of the 50+ age group to keep hospitalizations low? And what about
late complications in previously asymptomatic cases?
For Rt and other trends, see