Officials are urging residents to get vaccinated because the highly contagious variant is spreading locally as July 4th gatherings near.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, predicted outbreaks in unvaccinated pockets of the state as pandemic restrictions are lifted. (Jenna Fisher/Patch)
LOS ANGELES, CA — Hours before most COVID-19 restrictions are lifted across the state, Los Angeles County health officials pushed for residents to get vaccinated before the Fourth of July because the highly dangerous and virulent Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading in Los Angeles County.
The variant, which was recently detected in Los Angeles County accounts for about 6 percent of case in the United States. A report released out of Scotland, where the variant is now dominant, concluded it's twice has likely to cause hospitalization as the UK variant now dominant in California. It's also far more contagious than the UK variant as well as the West Coast varant behind the winter surge.
"If you're fully vaxxed, I wouldn't be too worried, especially if you're in a highly vaxxed region. If you're not vaccinated: I'd be afraid. Maybe even very afraid," tweeted Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of UC San Francisco's Department of Medicine.
The vaccines appear to be highly effective against the variant, he said. It's the unvaccinated who may need to worry along with parents in communities with low vaccination rates who have children too young to be vaccinated.
"For me, Delta adds to my resolve to keep mask on indoors when unvaxxed/unmasked people may be around. And I'm getting psychologically prepped for some restrictions to return in fall," Wachter tweeted. "Nobody wants that, but the virus doesn't care what we want. For unvaxxed, I wish you well but my sympathy is flagging. Your bad choice is looking worse."
Similarly, Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, predicted outbreaks in unvaccinated pockets of the state, reported the Los Angeles Times. In such communities, "we're gonna see outbreaks," said Ghaly. "I have no doubt that we'll see some places that are [largely] unvaccinated that are going to have an outbreak, and that's going to have real consequences."
Los Angeles County has higher vaccination rates than many parts of the state that may be more vulnerable to outbreaks due to low vaccination rates. Less than half of residents in the Inland Empire are vaccinated, and central valley communities have vaccination rates as low as 31 percent, according to state's public health department.
The county Department of Public Health noted that unvaccinated residents who get the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot by Sunday will be fully vaccinated by July 4. People who opt for the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines are too late to be fully vaccinated by the holiday, but getting the first dose will at least provide some protection, officials said.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also noted that unvaccinated people should continue to wear face coverings as statewide capacity and physical distancing restrictions are lifted.
"As Los Angeles County fully reopens tomorrow (Tuesday), there will be increased risk of COVID-19 infection for people who aren't fully vaccinated," Ferrer said in a statement. "In any setting, if you are not vaccinated and around people outside your household, your mask offers the best protection against the virus. We continue to get vaccines to everyone who wants one, and to help answer questions and provide vaccine information to those making a decision on getting vaccinated.
"With distancing requirements and capacity limits in almost all settings lifted, wearing an appropriate mask is critically important for those not yet vaccinated, including the 1.2 million children between the ages of 2 and 12. Unvaccinated adults that are in close contact with others should consider wearing a double mask or a respirator, which offer more protection for the wearer."
Through Thursday, anyone who gets a first vaccine dose at sites run by the county, city or St. John's Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a chance to win season tickets for the Clippers, Chargers or Rams. The contest is also open to anyone who comes in for a second-dose appointment and brings along another person who needs a first dose.
The state of California on Tuesday will wrap up its financial incentive program, holding a drawing to give away $1.5 million each to 10 vaccinated residents. But the state on July 1 will hold another drawing, giving away six California vacation packages, including trips to Anaheim, San Diego, Los Angeles, Rancho Mirage and San Francisco.
"These are life-saving vaccines," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday during a social media appearance with singer John Legend. "You can save your own life, you can save your loved one's life. But at the end of the day, if you want to go back to normal, you want to get back to the old routines, you never want to look back, you want this pandemic to be behind us once and for all, you've got to get vaccinated."
He said until the state and nation hit the vaccination level needed to bring about "herd immunity," COVID-19 surges "could come back at any minute."
"And we don't want fits and starts," he said. "We want this damn chapter of our lives over, done for, 100%, never to return again. And vaccinations are key to unlocking that reality."
Tuesday's lifting of most restrictions will be celebrated in various ways in the Los Angeles area. At the famed Langer's Delicatessen-Restaurant, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 8 a.m. to mark the eatery's first return to in-person dining since COVID-19 restrictions took effect last year. Langer's has been operating solely with delivery and pick-up orders.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and LAPD Chief Michel Moore are among those expected to take part in the event at 8 a.m. at the deli, 704 S. Alvarado St.
At 1 p.m., Ferrer will join Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis, other county officials and a group of front-line workers to mark the lifting of restrictions. According to Solis' office, the event will "salute the collective efforts that have made reopening possible, honor those who have lost loved ones, and underscore the continued importance of vaccinations for all eligible residents as we move forward into an equity-focused recovery."
The Los Angeles Dodgers will mark the occasion at the team's 7:10 p.m. game against the Philadelphia Phillies, opening the stadium for full- capacity seating for the first time since the pandemic began.
Los Angeles County reported just two new COVID-19 deaths on Monday, along with 135 new infections. The relatively low numbers are likely due to standard reporting delays from the weekend.
To date, the county has recorded 24,415 deaths and 1,246,436 infections during the pandemic.
According to state figures, there were 218 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Monday, with 43 people being treated in intensive care.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.