On July 2, 2020, when the first spring wave of Covid-19 faded, local elected officials across Southern California ordered virtually every beach is closed off from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Cities around California have canceled fireworks displays. Governor Gavin Newsom closed bars and mandatory masks in public areas. What officials couldn’t stop, however, were household gatherings and travel across the country Fourth of July weekend.
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A year later, the beaches and bars are open for the fourth. Fireworks shows are a go. Masks are no longer required in public. And health officials are concerned.
“A new wave could become a very real possibility,” he said Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday. “It is still unclear to us whether the people vaccinated with the vaccines in the United States can transmit the disease. Delta variant. Until more is known, individuals need to add a layer of protection.” That layer of protection Ferrer refers to is a mask.
Last Monday, Ferrer’s division made national headlines when it… declined on its own Covid guidelines, “strongly” recommending masking in all public public places, due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant. The World Health Organization did the same.
Another 549 new Covid-19 infections were reported Friday in Los Angeles County. That’s the largest number since mid-April this year, and the figure has crossed 500 for the second consecutive day. It sparked more calls for residents to get vaccinated and exercise caution over the weekend of July 4.
That 549 is more than double the average daily number reported by the province in mid-June this year, when state and county virus restrictions were lifted. Even more striking, it is nearly identical to the 570 new daily cases reported on July 2, 2020. However, there are some differences.
The most important of these are the vaccines. Nearly 60% percent of eligible LA County residents were fully vaccinated by July 1. That is much better than the 47% of the national population that has been fully vaccinated. But 4 million of the province’s 10 million residents are still unvaccinated, many of them children. That’s because vaccines are only approved for Americans over the age of 12.
Although children are so far less susceptible to Covid infections, the Delta variant is believed to be 60% more transmissible. It is also thought to cause more severe symptoms.
End of June, Israel recovered requirements for indoor masks due to the spread of the variant. According to the Wall Street Journal, “About half of the adults infected in an outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Israel had been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.” Israel is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, with about 80% of citizens over 16 fully vaccinated.
The country’s number of new daily cases produced by the outbreak was just 200, but that was more than 10 daily cases through most of June. Delta seemed to plow through the vaccine’s immunity and also hit people with stronger immune systems. According to the WSJ, “Children under 16, most of whom have not been vaccinated, accounted for about half of those infected.”
A similar scenario played out in the UK. A recent study by Imperial College London found that when the number of infections rose in early June, the increase was mainly caused by unvaccinated young people; The ones that were believed to be less susceptible. The study found 5-fold higher test positivity in children ages 5 to 12 and adults ages 18 to 24 than in people over 65.
It’s not just the cases that have increased in LA. The 7-day average number of people testing positive for the virus remains very low at just 1.3%. At the beginning of July 2020, that was 10%. But the trend in 2021 is not good.
Test positivity has increased over the past month. Test positivity has more than quadrupled from a low of 0.3% in the first week of June. In the past week alone, it is up more than 50%. That trend is happening even as daily test numbers plummeted—until this week. That could indicate an even greater rise in infections hidden by the smaller number of tests.
Hospital admissions due to Covid-19 have also risen, although they fell slightly on Friday, with state figures showing 275 virus patients in the province, up from 280 on Thursday. That was over 275 on Wednesday and 255 on Tuesday. There were 72 patients in intensive care due to Covid, up from 74 on Thursday. Los Angeles County reported five more Covid deaths on Friday, pushing the countywide death toll from the virus to 24,492.
“Every time we see a doubling in the number of cases and a quadrupling in test positivity in a short period of time, we are reminded of how easily the virus can spread,” Ferrer said.
The Delta variant is thought to be responsible for more than 26% of current infections in the United States. Ferrer said 245 cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in the province on Thursday, nearly double the number from last week. Given the cost, the province is only conducting a limited number of sequence tests necessary to identify the variants. Even with the small numbers, Delta has become the most dominant variant detected in the province.
Given the increasing prevalence among identified variants in the province, Ferrer said, it’s clear there is “increasing circulation” of Delta in the province.
She reiterated that existing vaccines offer 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 province’s millions of unvaccinated children.
Statewide, cases average more than 1,000 last week for the first time since May. On Friday, the daily number of new infections rose to 1,792, a count that California has not seen in months. Test positivity also rose from a low of 0.7% in early June to 1.5% on Friday. That prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to tweet his own pre-Fourth warning and a plea for Californians to get vaccinated.