Amid a concerning increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations throughout the state, the California Department of Public Health is urging residents to wear masks indoors in public settings, regardless of vaccination status.
The state updated its guidance on face coverings on Wednesday, one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended masks be worn indoors in places with high coronavirus transmission to prevent the spread of the Delta variant, a reversal from its announcement in May that vaccinated individuals did not need to mask up in most public settings. CDC officials are also recommending that schools reopen in the fall with students and employees wearing masks.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that the recommendation made two months ago was based on data collected at that time, and that new data indicates further that the highly infectious Delta variant is more transmissible even among vaccinated people. The Washington Post, citing an internal CDC memo, reported on Thursday that officials believe that the Delta variant causes more severe illness than other variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox, and that vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant have viral loads similar to those of unvaccinated people also infected with Delta.
“We are now a country that is the majority of Delta,” Walensky said. “We know that our young children, 11 and younger, cannot be vaccinated. We know that our vaccinated individuals, in the rare case they are [a case of breakthrough infection], have the potential to pass the virus to unvaccinated individuals.
“I think the most important thing to recognize,” she added, “is that most of transmission across this country is related to people who are unvaccinated.”
Los Angeles County reported 3,606 new cases on Friday, noting that 96% of the positive tests that were sequenced in laboratories contained the Delta variant. That being said, daily new cases still pale in comparison to numbers reported during the winter surge that stretched all hospitals thin, and public health officials credit the vaccines. More than 70% of residents in the county have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said vaccination efforts “remain critically important” and urged residents, even those who were infected with COVID-19 in the past, to get inoculated.
“There are severe health risks associated with COVID and reinfection is possible, particularly from variants of the virus,” Ferrer said in a statement on Friday. “And if you haven’t received your second shot of a two-dose vaccine, you aren’t getting maximum protection against COVID-19. All of the emerging data on the Delta variant indicates that the vaccines do not provide significant protection unless you have received both doses, so please go get your second dose this weekend.”
Glendale has had at least 983 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 in July, while 59.7% of its residents age 16 and older have had at least one vaccine dose; 72.7% of residents 65 and older have had at least one, as have 43% of residents ages 12-17. Unincorporated La Crescenta-Montrose has had 57 reported new cases in July, with 74.3% of residents 16 and older having had at least one dose; 90.9% of its residents 65 and older have had at least one dose, while 92.1% of residents 12-17 have.
A USC Verdugo Hills Hospital official said the institution had four COVID-19 inpatients, all of whom were unvaccinated, as of the News-Press’ deadline this week.
“We are also seeing a marked increase in COVID-related emergency department visits,” said Jessica Thomas, USC-VHH associate administrator for nursing administration. “COVID-19 testing has increased more than 50% compared to this time last month, and we are also seeing more positive test results. It is important to continue being cautious, following public health guidelines and making arrangements to get vaccinated if you qualify to receive one.”
Adventist Health Glendale reported having 10 COVID-19 patients and Glendale Memorial Hospital had two on Thursday, according to the Los Angeles Times’ COVID-19 tracker.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday noted that the state recently saw a 16% increase in the number of people receiving their first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“We want to see that trend continue; we need to see that trend continue,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California secretary of health and human services.
Zane Hill contributed to this report.