Delta variant a ‘game-changer’ as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Certified Medical Assistant Kristine Gonzales, right, prepares to administer a dose of Pfizer vaccine to David Baris during the COVID-19 vaccine clinic and food distribution event held at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley Sierra Vista Clubhouse in Canyon Country on Friday, July 9, 2021. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department reported Thursday 2,767 cases in the past 24 hours, contributing to an 80% increase in COVID-19 cases this week over the last week.  

“These considerable increases are a demonstration of the increased circulation of the highly transmissible Delta variant,” said Barbara Ferrer, the department’s head, calling the COVID-19 mutation a “game-changer.” 

Ferrer told reporters Thursday afternoon that increases in COVID-19 cases have previously led to increases in hospitalizations and deaths over the past year-and-a-half. 

“It’s not clear yet that we’re going to see that same pattern with this wave, in part because we as a population are very different,” she said. “More than half of our county’s residents, including those most vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus, are now fully vaccinated.” 

Ferrer said countries like the UK and Israel, which have similar vaccination rates as L.A. County and are also experiencing a surge, have disrupted the usual pattern. 

“Some level of community immunity seems to be protecting people in these countries as a whole from the kinds of mass tragedy we all witnessed earlier in this pandemic, and that is hopeful news,” she said.  “It’s further proof to us that increasing vaccinations to as high a level as possible is our best way back to very low rates of community transmission.” 

Ferrer’s presentation was the first time she had spoken about post-vaccination infections. She reported that vaccinated county residents represented 20% of COVID-19 positive test results in June. 

“If the 50% of our residents who are now fully vaccinated, were not fully vaccinated, not only would the (number of vaccinated people who are infected) not exist, but the (number of unvaccinated people who are infected) would be much larger, perhaps double in size,” said Ferrer. 

 Los Angeles County COVID-19 transmission trends place it in the “substantial transmission” category, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

“The last time we saw cases rise this quickly as they are now was back in early December of last year and that was during our very worst surge,” Ferrer said, noting large age and racial gaps in vaccination. 

Data shows case rates rising fastest among 18- to 29-year-old residents, of which 58% have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of July 18, compared to 75% of 50- to 64-year-olds and 92% of 65- to 79-year-old residents. Among 30- to 49-year-old residents, the vaccination rate is at 67%.  

“To really beat back transmission, we do need to see other age groups reach high levels of vaccinations,” said Ferrer, noting unvaccinated people have five times the risk of getting infected compared to vaccinated people. “It’s very concerning to see gaps persist among young and middle-aged adults who are such an important part of our workforce.” 

Ferrer reported that 6,250, or 0.13% of, vaccinated people in L.A. County have tested positive for COVID-19 since December.  

Ferrer said that the increased community transmission and the threat of new mutations that may be more infectious than the Delta variant motivated the department to recently modify the public health order to require people wear masks. 

“While vaccinated people can be reassured about the protection the vaccine gives you from severe COVID disease, we cannot yet reassure you that, given the proliferation of the Delta variant, the vaccine protects you from another person,” Ferrer said. “That’s why masking up right now is important. It’s adding an extra layer of protection to prevent the heartache that comes from transmitting the virus to others.” 

Latest SCV, county data 

Public Health officials also released the following updated COVID-19 statistics Thursday: 

Countywide COVID-19 cases reported in the past 24 hours: 2,767 

Total COVID-19 cases in L.A. County: 1,276,137 

New deaths related to COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours: 13 

Total COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County: 24,607 

Hospitalizations countywide: 645 

COVID-19 cases reported in the Santa Clarita Valley in the past 24 hours: 88, 67 of which came from the city of Santa Clarita 

Total COVID-19 cases in the SCV: 29,110 

Total COVID-19 deaths in the SCV as of July 21: 307 

Percentage of vaccinated people (at least one dose) in the city of Santa Clarita as of July 18: 70.8% 

Percentage of vaccinated people (at least one dose) in the SCV as of July 18: 67.3% 

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