New Rise in Coronavirus Cases Worries Officials

Though the increase pales in comparison to last year’s Fourth of July surge, Los Angeles County is experiencing a concerning spike in COVID-19 infections after recording more than 1,000 new cases for a sixth consecutive day on Wednesday.

The county Department of Public Health reported 1,315 such cases on Wednesday, and more than 99% of the recent cases have involved unvaccinated individuals. The county averaged 1,090 new cases per day from July 8-14, compared with only 496 from July 1-7.

Prior to Friday, July 9, the number of new cases in one day had not surpassed triple digits since March 11. The county reported 1,107 new cases on July 9 and 1,094 the following day. The 1,000-case streak continued Sunday — even with the weekend lag — with 1,113 cases, and on Monday with 1,059. Tuesday’s total was 1,103.

The test positivity rate has also increased 700%, from .5% one month ago to 3.4% on Tuesday, and again went up the following day to 3.7%. There has also been an uptick in coronavirus outbreaks with 55 being investigated by public health officials, a 25% increase from the previous week.

As of Tuesday, La Cañada Flintridge has had 779 coronavirus cases overall, and 17 people have died from the disease. The city has one of the highest vaccination rates in the county with 76.3% of residents 16 and older having at least one dose of the vaccine. The county as a whole has administered more than 10.6 million doses of the vaccine, and nearly 69.3% of its residents 16 have had at least one dose.

Health officials attribute the alarming rise in numbers to the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus and a slowing in the vaccination rate throughout the county, a trend mainly due to residents’ hesitancy about getting the vaccine. Officials are also urging the public to wear masks indoors with community transmission rising.

“It is clear the threat of COVID-19 is with us and we are dealing with a more infectious variant that causes it,” County Health Officer Muntu Davis, a physician, said during a county Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, “and the best action each of us can take is to get vaccinated against COVID and to take sensible precautions if you are not eligible or choose not be vaccinated.”

Dr. Christina Ghaly, county director of health services, said that every patient admitted with COVID-19 in each of the four county hospitals was unvaccinated, which only adds more stress to a health-care workers who have spent countless hours on the front line since last March.

The county reported 376 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 23% of them were in intensive care units on Tuesday.

“Certainly the stress they’re experiencing now is not anything close to what it was in the midst of the surge earlier this year, but still the months add on top of one another and I think it’s really challenging to see patients come in so sick,” Ghaly said of health-care workers during an appearance before county supervisors.

“At this point, this is a very preventable illness, a preventable infection, and the health-care workers will continue doing everything they can to support the lives and health of the individuals that come in,” Ghaly added. “But it’s really been a very challenging year and I think made all the more challenging because we see the suffering that these patients and their families are going through and it’s very preventable at this point in time.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl didn’t hold back in expressing her disappointment in residents who choose not to be vaccinated, saying she hoped they “understand the impact that they have, not only on their communities and their families, but on other people in their communities who are the health-care workers, who are the people toiling more than 14, 15, 16 hours a day to take care of them when they don’t want to take care of themselves.”

“I am sorry to sound a little angry, but it just strikes me as enormously selfish,” Kuehl added. “We can’t rely on herd immunity if the herd won’t get their shots.”

Those reluctant to get vaccinated may feel less inclined to do so after the Food and Drug Administration warned of the possibility that the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine slightly increases the risk of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The FDA reported there have been 100 preliminary reports of GBS among the 12.5 million people vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Of those 100 people, 95 required hospitalization and there was one reported death.

“Although the available evidence suggests an association between the [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine and increased risk of GBS, it is insufficient to establish a causal relationship,” the FDA said in a statement. “No similar signal has been identified with the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.”

Despite the warning, public health officials reiterated that the benefits of vaccinations greatly outweigh the risks, especially with the Delta variant. Among those who are fully vaccinated, only .06% have tested positive for the coronavirus, .004% have been hospitalized and .0004% have died, according to the county.

“With transmission on the rise, the best protection from COVID-19 is to be fully vaccinated,” Davis said. “And even after you have been infected or had COVID-19 and recovered, it is still recommended by the [Centers for Disease Control]. Their studies have shown that vaccinations provide a strong boost in protection in people who have recovered from COVID-19.”