California sees a sharp increase in Covid cases and a return to mask mandates

Just over a month after the Golden state dropped all its coronavirus safety restrictions, numerous parts of California are seeing a dramatic increases in Covid-19 infections that have prompted counties to reinstate masking requirements and heightened calls for reaching the unvaccinated.

In Los Angeles, county figures show that Covid-19 infections have increased twentyfold in a month. In San Francisco, they’ve almost tripled in two weeks and, overall, California’s hospitalization numbers have increased by 58%, according to New York Times data.

Despite the fact that California is one of the country’s most vaccinated states, experts blame the highly contagious Delta variant for a new surge that has disrupted businesses’ and politicians’ plans to celebrate the state’s reopening.

“Primarily we’re seeing infections in the unvaccinated,” said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, citing earlier statistics from Los Angeles which found 99.6% of new cases there were in the unvaccinated. “We’re seeing the Delta variant’s extra strength.”

Even with New York Times figures showing nearly 77% of the state’s adults having gotten at least one shot of vaccine, that leaves plenty of unprotected people to transmit the virus, Rutherford said.

Although the percentages of state’s residents with the virus aren’t as high as in less densely populated hotspots around the country, such as in Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana, the 5,577 recent California cases counted by the state health department still add up to a worrying figure. Meanwhile, the 13% case rate per 100,000 residents, shown by the New York Times, is now comparable to the rate that kept counties in lockdown just a few months ago.

Los Angeles county officials announced 2,551 new cases and seven deaths on Wednesday. The county’s test positivity rate jumped to 5.2%, up from 0.7% a month ago, according to a release from the county health department.

“Because of the more infectious Delta variant and the intermingling of unmasked individuals where vaccination status is unknown, unfortunately, we are seeing a surge in cases in LA county that looks somewhat similar to last summer,” said Dr Barbara Ferrer, the director of public health for Los Angeles county.

However, she said she was hopeful that a huge surge in deaths, similar to last summer’s, would be avoided. “An important difference this summer is that with millions of people vaccinated, we are hopeful we will avoid similar increases in deaths that were experienced last year,” she said.

Local analyses by the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle have shown that Black and Latino communities are suffering higher Covid-19 case rates where vaccination rates have also lagged.

“It has nothing to do with what color you are or how old you are,” said Rutherford. “It’s whether you’ve been vaccinated. And those who are unvaccinated tend to cluster together.”

The California state capitol re-instituted its mask requirements two weeks ago, after nine legislative aides were detected with Covid infections in screenings. Four of them were fully vaccinated, according to reporting by the Chronicle.

Rutherford said that as the overall case rates increased, the chance of vaccinated residents coming down with “breakthrough” infections also increased, even in areas that had only recently thought that they had hit herd immunity: the point at which enough people have immunity to the virus it can no longer easily spread. But most hospitalizations, deaths and severe cases would still occur among the unvaccinated, he said.

“With more people walking around with infections, the probability of being exposed is greater,” he said. And, he said, the transmissibility of the Delta variant raised the threshold for herd immunity.

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