Delta Variant Marches Through City, Nation

The Delta variant, a mutated strain of COVID-19, continues to rage through the country, accounting for an estimated 83% of recent coronavirus cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week. And the variant is having a growing effect on California’s health-care system as well.

According to the state Department of Public Health, 2,880 patients were hospitalized due to the coronavirus and 615 were in intensive care units in California as of Friday. On June 21, the CDPH reported 1,223 COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

The highly contagious Delta variant accounts for more than 60% of recent coronavirus cases in the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Wednesday news conference, and hospitalizations have spiked throughout California, especially in Los Angeles County. The variant accounted for 84% of sequences collected in the county from July 11-17. 

The county Department of Public Health reported 2,767 new cases on Thursday, marking the 14th consecutive day of at least 1,000 new cases, and hospitalizations throughout the county climbed to 685. On June 21, there were only 124 new cases and 213 people in the hospital with COVID-19. As of Wednesday, the positivity rate in the county was 5.2%, compared with 0.7% one month ago.

Burbank has seen an uptick in new cases, averaging 18 per day from July 9-22 after averaging only five in the first eight days of the month. Nearly 72% of residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, as have 41.9% of residents 12-17.

L.A. County is the only one in the state to mandate that masks be worn in indoor public settings — the order went into effect last weekend — but most of the remaining counties have now recommended that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear a face covering.

“The Delta variant, because it is so much more infectious than any virus strain we have seen before, requires us to add additional layers of protection to slow transmission as we work to increase vaccination rates,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said in a statement on Thursday. “While vaccinated people can be reassured about the protection the vaccine gives you from severe COVID-19 disease, we cannot yet reassure you that, given the proliferation of the Delta variant, the vaccine protects you from infecting another person. This is what masking up right now is really about: adding an extra layer of protection to prevent the heartache that comes from transmitting the virus to others.”

More than 70% of residents 16 and older in the county and more than 76% in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which makes California’s population one of the most vaccinated in the country. However, Newsom said that is “not good enough.”

“The most important thing we can do to get this pandemic behind us is to get vaccinated,” the governor said. “I want to encourage everybody who hasn’t been vaccinated to get vaccinated. I also want to encourage you, if you’re hesitant to get vaccinated, to consider the words of those in ICUs in hospitals right now. Listen to their words, not mine. The universal regret is ‘Coulda, woulda. I wish I had gotten vaccinated.’ That’s the most important message moving forward.”

Newsom didn’t say whether the state would turn back on its reopening and impose a mask mandate but reiterated that the decisions made by California health officials are based on science.

“At no point in this pandemic have we been ideological,” he said. “We’re open to argument and interested in evidence, so we’ve maintained that consistently and I’ll maintain that today as it relates to any subsequent decisions on the basis of epidemiology, on the basis of science, on the basis of the status of our health-care delivery system. On that basis, we stand firm. I want to applaud local decision making [from county officials] that’s been done.”

At a Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said 83% of sequenced cases involve the Delta variant, a “dramatic increase” from 50% earlier in the month.

Though nearly 50% of U.S. residents eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated, CDC officials are concerned that nearly two-thirds of the counties in the nation have a vaccine coverage of less than 40%.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky said in a White House briefing on July 16. “We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well.”