The Delta-variant-fueled COVID-19 surge continues this week, with case numbers inching up to levels we haven’t seen since February of this year. New daily cases for LA County ranged from a low of 1,966 on Monday, July 26, to a high of 3,606 new cases on Friday, July 30. Four straight days of more than 3,000 cases came at the end of the last 10 days. And current hospitalizations also moved steadily upward – from 688 to 1,071 – over the last 10 days.
LA County COVID Cases, Deaths & Hospitalizations - July 24-August 1, 2021
Every neighborhood in our Buzz readership area saw the pace of new cases increase as well, with cumulative cases advancing more quickly in the last 10 days than in the week before.
Commenting on the virulence of the Delta variant, LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer spoke this week about the differences between Delta and the strains we saw earlier in the pandemic:
“The science on this variant shows that it is different from earlier variants of COVID. It replicates faster and more efficiently in respiratory tract cells, which means that infected people may now spread up to a 1,000 times more virus particles with every cough, sneeze or shout than they did a year ago,” she said.
And, yes, the Delta variant is also now infecting more fully vaccinated people. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, according to the LA Times, 99% of the new infections were in unvaccinated people…but in the last couple of weeks, the number of new cases among people who are fully vaccinated has definitely increased. Even so, however, the “breakthrough” infections are still proving to be much less severe than new infections in the unvaccinated, and fewer vaccinated individuals are experiencing severe illness, hospitalizations, or death. According to health department figures quoted by the LA Daily News:
“County figures show that as of July 27, among 4.9 million fully vaccinated residents, 10,656 tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 0.22%. That rate marks a 63% increase from a week ago, but still remains statistically low.
Among the vaccinated people, only 410 were hospitalized, for a rate of 0.008%, and only 35 died, a rate of 0.0007%.
From Jan. 1 through June 30 of this year, 99.8% of the people who died from COVID-19 were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated…”
And case rates are also rising much more steeply in the unvaccinated than in the vaccinated.
In other words, according to the LA Times:
“…while these “breakthrough” cases are sometimes highlighted as a precautionary tale — a signal of the shots’ shortcomings — the reality is that the vaccinations remain as consistently effective as ever where it counts: protecting people against severe illness.
All of which keeps the focus on increasing the number of vaccinations to help keep Delta and other new variants in check. So this week, to move that needle a bit, there were several announcements about new vaccine requirements for federal employees, California state employees and health care workers, and Los Angeles city employees, all of whom will either have to get vaccinated or undergo much more frequent testing for COVID-19. (The various programs will roll out gradually over the next few weeks and months.)
But so far there are no vaccine requirements for the more general public, either locally or statewide (unlike in France, which recently announced – to some public outcry – that many kinds of businesses will be closed to those who are not vaccinated). In fact, vaccination rates for the general public are still slowing both nationally and LA County, where only 62% of people 16 and over are fully vaccinated, still far short of the kind of “herd immunity” (about 80% vaccination levels) it would take to stop the spread of the virus.
Also, as has been previously reported, vaccination rates are still following greatly different paths for different ethnic groups, with Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native groups at least somewhat likely to hit the 80% threshold by November or December of this year, but with the trajectories for White, Latinx, and Black populations moving much more slowly, and unlikely to reach 80% or more until sometime next year.
Locally, many of our Buzz-area neighborhoods are doing at least a bit better with vaccinations than the county-wide numbers, but we still have only two neigborhoods with more than 80% of their residents vaccinated…with 10 more past the 70% mark, nine between 60 and 70%, and two that are still below 60%.
Finally, with case numbers rising quickly again, many parents are starting to worry, once again, about sending their unvaccinated children back to school, which in many cases opens just two weeks from today (August 16 for LAUSD public schools). Children 12 and older are now eligible for vaccines, and LAUSD will be urging parents to vaccinate their children, and providing school-based vaccination events around the district. But children under 12 still are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, so LAUSD will be requiring both masks for all people on campus (both vaccinated and unvaccinated), as well as weekly COVID tests for students, staff, and others (parents, volunteers, etc.) who spend time on campuses and in classrooms.
According to a recent statment from LAUSD Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly:
“Our preparations for the start of the new school year include continuing to require masking for all students, staff, and visitors; maximizing physical distancing as much as possible; continuing comprehensive sanitizing efforts, including frequent hand washing; upgraded air filtration systems; regular, ongoing COVID testing and community engagement; and collaborating with health partners and agencies to support free COVID vaccination.
All students and employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, returning for in-person instruction must participate in baseline and ongoing weekly COVID testing. This is in accordance with the most recent guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Baseline testing begins on Monday, August 2. More information can be found at https://achieve.lausd.net/covidtestingappt.”
To fulfill the testing requirements, parents, staff, and students can be tested at one of several sites around the district…
…or at one of several mobile testing clinics that will make the rounds among our other local schools over the next couple of weeks. Contact your local school to find out when it will host a local testing event.
Meanwhile, parents and staff can also schedule vaccinations for themselves or their students at several school-based sites around the District. See https://achieve.lausd.net/covidvaccineappt for more information.
Also, for those who are now re-thinking the return to in-person instruction, it’s worth noting that while LAUSD is not currently offering an online education option at local schools this year, it is making a full-time online education option available through its City of Angels online academy, and the enrollment deadline for that program was recently extended through August 6. Please note, though, that students enrolling in this program will no longer be enrolled in their local schools, and will not have access to any of the campus-specific special programming (dual-language programs, gifted programs, STEM focus, etc.) they may have had at their previous school.
For more information on LAUSD’s new school year and policies, download LAUSD’s full Welcome Back to School Family Guide.
And finally regarding schools, the LA County Department of Health is also aware there are many back-to-school questions flying around, and will host its own virtual town hall meeting on schools on Wednesday, August 4 at 6 pm. It will be available on YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms, as shown below.