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COVID cases accelerate amid transmission of Delta variant

Coronavirus infections in Los Angeles County have accelerated amid an alarming new wave that has seen cases and hospitalizations reach levels not seen in months.

County health officials reported an additional 2,767 cases on Thursday, the second day in a row with more than 2,000 newly confirmed infections.

The number of cases has not been so high since the end of February.

“We continue to see a very rapid increase in transmission across the county,” said Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also increased in recent times. As of Wednesday, 655 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized across the county – nearly triple the number seen a month ago.

Some of the blame for the increase in cases, officials said, can be blamed on the feet of the highly contagious Delta variant, which is believed to be twice as transmissible as the other strains.

“When you have a more infectious variant going around and you see what we’re seeing now, a lot of community transmission, you can expect exactly what we see: a lot more people are infected, including more people who are fully vaccinated, ”Ferrer said. .

Ferrer noted that hospitalizations are not yet swelling as strongly as in previous outbreaks.

“It is too early to say with 100% certainty whether the small increase we are seeing in hospitalizations is the start of a small wave of hospitalizations or the start of a more devastating wave,” she said. declared during a briefing. “We hope, however, that with so many of our most at-risk residents fully immunized, we won’t see the same rate of increase in hospitalizations as last year.”

However, the spread of the coronavirus has increased to such an extent that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers the county to have “high” community transmission – the worst classification on the four-level scale of the agency.

Other California counties in this category include Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Lake, Sutter, Yuba, and Plumas.

Even with the recent increases, LA remains in much better shape than during the fall and winter wave – when an average of around 15,000 new cases were reported each day and more than 8,000 COVID-19 patients were sometimes hospitalized.

And the number of daily deaths from COVID-19 still remains relatively low, averaging around 4 in LA County and 22 statewide, according to data compiled by The Times.

About 53% of LA County residents are fully immunized.

Even against this background, officials say the recent trajectory of cases is both familiar and undesirable – resembling the slope seen during last summer’s peak.

County officials have already stepped in to try to break the chain of transmission by reinstating the requirement for everyone to wear masks in indoor public places.

However, it will take weeks to assess whether this effort is having the desired effect or whether more aggressive restrictions are needed.

The safest way to prevent this from happening, officials said, is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Although officials have long argued that all COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States protect against coronavirus infection and are particularly effective in preventing serious illness, the new increase in cases nationwide – as well as the circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant – has sparked new fears that even fully vaccinated individuals could become ill.

Such “revolutionary” cases are rare, but not unforeseen, experts say.

“Infections after vaccination are expected. No vaccine is 100% effective, ”said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s foremost infectious disease expert. “However, even if a vaccine does not completely protect against infection, it usually protects against serious illness if it is successful.”

Of all the confirmed cases across the county in June, Ferrer said 20% occurred in residents who were fully vaccinated.

This is not necessarily surprising, she said, as more residents have rolled up their sleeves.

By early June, about 44% of residents were fully immunized, according to Times data, and that proportion had risen to over 50% by the end of the month.

In other words, even though half of the county was not fully vaccinated as of June, that part of the county’s residents included four out of five newly diagnosed coronavirus cases.

Ferrer also noted that, among the fully vaccinated infected people, “the vast majority of these people have not experienced any illness or very mild illness.”

Fauci cited data showing that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were 95% and 94% effective, respectively, compared to symptomatic COVID-19. And in the United States, the Johnson & Johnson single injection vaccine was 72% effective against a clinically recognizable disease.

“So even though we see infections after vaccination (…) the efficacy against serious illness is still substantial,” Fauci said.

In addition to the greater potential for adverse health effects, officials say it’s important to note that those who aren’t vaccinated are also much more infected.

During the week of July 7 to 14, the average case rate among unvaccinated Californians was 13 per 100,000, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. Among those who had been vaccinated, the comparable figure was 2 per 100,000.

Ferrer said the infection rate in LA County in June was five times higher for residents not fully vaccinated than for those who are fully vaccinated.

“While our numbers have increased, they would be much higher if we didn’t have so many people fully vaccinated,” she said.

Although LA County’s indoor mask tenure remains the largest in the state, about 60% of Californians now live in a county that advises or instructs on universal face coverings in places like grocery stores, department stores. retail, movie theaters and restaurants when not eating or while drinking.

Over the past week, California has reported an average of nearly 5,000 new cases of coronavirus a day, five times more than four weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.

At the end of June, the state was registering about 6,000 new cases per week, according to an analysis by The Times. At the height of the pandemic, the state recorded more than 300,000 new cases of coronavirus over a seven-day period.

Despite how cases have increased across California and the country, neither federal nor state health officials have rescinded guidelines that fully vaccinated residents can go without face coverings almost anywhere, although people not. vaccinees should always hide in indoor public spaces.

“We don’t need masks if we all get vaccinated,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters earlier this week.

CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said Thursday the agency’s recommendations have not changed – although she noted that “we have always said that communities and individuals must make the decisions that are best for them. are appropriate depending on what is happening in their local areas. . “

“If you are in an area where the case rate is high and vaccination rates low, or if Delta cases are increasing, you should definitely wear a mask if you are not vaccinated,” she said. during a briefing. “If you get vaccinated you get exceptional protection from the vaccines, but you have the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you wish. “

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