A wave of new coronavirus infections is hitting California’s healthcare system, pushing COVID-19 hospitalizations to levels not seen since early spring – giving new urgency to efforts to curb transmission, while growing numbers of counties urge residents to wear a face mask indoors.
Across the state, the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients has doubled in the past month, and the numbers have accelerated in the past two weeks.
Yet even with the recent surge, the state’s healthcare system is nowhere near as saturated as it was during the fall and winter surge. And many health experts are confident that California will never see numbers of that magnitude again, given the number of residents vaccinated.
But with the continued spread of the Delta variant, which authorities fear could proliferate in communities with lower rates of inoculation, the next few weeks are key to determining how powerful the latest hit of the pandemic may be.
Recent increases confirm that almost all people who are becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 right now are not vaccinated.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. So if you want to get back to normal once and for all, please get vaccinated, ”Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters Tuesday.
The fact that about 52% of all Californians are fully vaccinated sets a limit on the number of people who remain exposed to possible infection.
Los Angeles County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Tuesday that “the individual consequences of choosing not to get vaccinated can be dire for that person, their family and their friends.”
Ghaly said that seeing a steady stream of COVID-19 patients, the vast majority of whom are not vaccinated, triggers a host of emotions in healthcare workers who have long been on the front lines of the pandemic: frustration. , sadness and “a certain level of disbelief that, after the pain and suffering that we have all seen … there are still people who either do not believe it, or do not believe that it can affect them.”
Californians most at risk – especially the elderly – have been vaccinated in a high percentage. But the numbers drop for the youngest segments of the population, and children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated.
“I think people think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get that sick. I’ll be fine. I am not going to die of COVID; I’m young; I’m healthy, ‘”Ghaly said. “And I can tell you that I hope this is the case, but it won’t necessarily be what happens.”
Between June 22 and July 6, the daily number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in California rose from 978 to 1,228, an increase of nearly 26%, state data shows.
In the past two weeks, the daily count increased a further 76%, reaching 2,164 as of Monday.
California’s intensive care units are also filling up. As of Monday, 552 people with coronavirus were in ICUs statewide, more than double the number a month ago.
The latest figures still pale in comparison to the peak of the last wave, when more than 21,000 COVID-19 patients swarmed into hospitals and nearly 4,900 people were in ICUs.
Authorities have long characterized the transmission of the coronavirus as a dangerous chain: The increase in the number of infections triggers a corresponding increase in hospitalizations a week or two later and, finally, a rebound in deaths.
However, inoculations have the power to interrupt that chain. There is a wealth of academic data demonstrating the high level of protection that vaccines offer, especially when it comes to preventing serious illness and death.
“We have the tools to end this epidemic. It is up to us to use them to the fullest, ”Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s leading infectious disease expert, told a Senate committee on Tuesday.
In Los Angeles County, for example, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has more than doubled in the last month.
However, of the nearly 4.8 million people across the county who had been fully vaccinated as of July 13, only 213 – or 0.0045% – ended up being hospitalized for COVID-19.
In Ventura County, Dr. Robert Levin, a health official, said recent data shows that unvaccinated residents are 22 times more likely to be infected and hospitalized than those who have been vaccinated.
“All members of the community must take steps to protect themselves and others against this potentially deadly virus,” he said Monday.
San Bernardino County hospitals are also “seeing a growing number of COVID-19 patients and, if national statistics are any indication, all of them are not vaccinated,” according to Acting Director of Public Health Andrew Goldfrach.
“What everyone must recognize is that we cannot end this pandemic until we have vaccinated the vast majority of our population,” Goldfrach said in a recent situation update. “So it was with polio, so it was with smallpox, so it was with measles, and it will take a massive vaccination to eliminate COVID-19. The truth is that it is in our hands to stop the disease and the deaths ”.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has stated that more than 97% of COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide correspond to unvaccinated people.
Like hospitalizations, coronavirus cases have rebounded across the state in the past month, although they are nowhere near as high as before.
During the one-week period ending Monday, California reported an average of 4,200 new cases per day, more than four times the level in mid-June.
During the peak of the fall and winter surge, the state reported more than 40,000 cases a day on average.
And many experts believe the healthcare system is better shielded against a spike in infections this time, largely due to vaccines.
The main concern now is the Delta variant, which is believed to be twice as transmissible as conventional strains of the coronavirus. Despite only recently arriving in the state, it has quickly become the dominant variant in California.
Like other variants, Delta is the result of natural mutations that occur as the coronavirus replicates and spreads. Reducing the number of infections, according to Ghaly, limits the chances that the virus will adapt even more dangerously.
“The virus cannot mutate without a host. It does not mutate on the surface of a table; it does not mutate within a respiratory droplet in the air, ”he pointed out.
Given the risk the Delta poses to those who have yet to be fully vaccinated, 16 counties – including Ventura, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Santa Clara – now urge all residents, even those who are fully vaccinated, to use a mask in closed public places such as grocery stores, cinemas and shops.
Los Angeles County is requiring the use of a mask in those places.
All of these counties have gone beyond the guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health, which continues to advise that fully vaccinated residents can stop wearing a mask almost everywhere, although non-inoculated residents must still put the mask on. indoor public spaces.
When asked about the possibility of issuing a new statewide mask mandate, Newsom said that “if we can get more people vaccinated, the answer is unequivocal: We won’t need it.”
“We are not looking to do any physical distancing, no social distancing. We do not seek to close anything. We are fully committed to having our children go back to school in person, to receive instruction, ”he said. “But we have to get more people vaccinated.”
While the vaccination campaign has largely entered a critical phase – one in which officials, in cooperation with community groups and local leaders, are working on the ground to answer questions, dispel misinformation and create Vaccine confidence – some areas are taking a different approach, at least when it comes to their employees.
Pasadena will require all city employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 once the vaccines receive federal approval, it is the first municipality in Southern California to take that step.
San Francisco has already mandated that all workers in “high-risk settings,” such as hospitals, nursing homes, and jails, be fully vaccinated by Sept. 15.
The city’s 35,000 workers – including police officers, firefighters, janitors and employees – will also have to be vaccinated or risk losing their jobs once the US Food and Drug Administration has formally approved the vaccine.
However, the vast majority of cities and counties have yet to adopt that tactic.
Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said last week that “we recognize that not everyone is going to get vaccinated, and we accept that. It is a personal decision at this time ”.
But, he added, “if you make the decision not to get vaccinated, make sure you do everything you can to reduce your risk, especially now.”
Times editors Faith E. Pinho and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.
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