How dangerous is California’s Delta COVID-19 rise? If the Golden State were still using its four-color blueprint for ranking counties according to infection rates, at most a dozen of them, including Los Angeles and Contra Costa, would now be in the most restrictive purple Tier, and many businesses wouldn’t be fully open.
This was done by using new metrics that were introduced in March. It made it easier for counties that have higher case rates to be moved into lower-restriction Tiers after the state achieved what it considered fair vaccination rates. According to the original state tier definitions, 29 counties including San Francisco would now be purple. This meant that the virus was widely spread, according to a Bay Area News Group analysis.
This grim picture is a little more than a month after California authorities dropped the reopening plan and its color-coded restrictions for gatherings and business activities. They also eased the requirements for public face masks to stop the spread of the virus. Since then, all amusement parks, bars, and sports venues have reopened fully, and citizens from across the state have gathered to celebrate July Fourth.
“We’ve all forgotten the tier system because it was important to us,” Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor emeritus in infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley’s school of public health, said. “We are not in a very favorable place relative to where we were one month ago.”
California was the slowest state to reopen after the pandemic. It also had one of the highest vaccination rates among large states. Nearly 52% of its citizens were fully inoculated, compared to 56% in New York, 48% in Florida, and 43% respectively.
California, like many other states, is experiencing the rapid spread of COVID-19, a highly infectious Delta variant. This virus has nearly all its victims among people who have not been vaccinated.
Napa, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties joined the ranks of other Bay Area counties to ask people to wear masks indoors to stop the spread of the virus. Los Angeles placed that order Saturday.
The California Department of Public Health reports that the virus is spreading throughout the state at a 7-day average daily rate of 6.9 cases per 100,000 people for the unvaccinated and 1.1 per 100,000 for the vaccinated. These figures were not available by county.
The CDPH stated in a Friday statement that vaccines are still the best protection against COVID-19 and the highly infectious Delta variant. “As we continue seeing the aggressive effect of the Delta variant on rising case rates, it is critical that all eligible persons get vaccinated.
California’s color-coded reopening plan was introduced last August in the midst of a summer surge following the release by the state of its March 2020 stay home order to combat the coronavirus.
The original blueprint gave the most restrictive purple tier to counties whose average daily COVID-19 case rate was 7 per 100,000 or more.
These rates would prevent middle and high schools from opening their doors to students, as well as elementary and secondary schools at certain levels. The virus could not spread to bars and theatres, restaurants and gyms could not be opened.
Once counties’ case rates dropped, the blueprint allowed them to host more activities and gatherings, placing them in the “substantial”, “moderate” and “minimal yellow tiers.
All but four rural counties were included in the purple tier at the January peak of California’s deadly winter COVID-19 spike.
As vaccines became easier to access and more people got the shots, state officials changed the tier metrics in March to reflect the protection provided by immunization. This allowed counties with high vaccination rates to be moved out of the restrictive Tiers and allow them to reopen their businesses. The revised rules made the purple tier applicable to counties that have a 7-day average daily rate of 10 per 100,000 or more.
California’s tier system was ended on June 15th. No counties were left in the purple tier and only one in the red tier. 29 were in yellow tier.
Many local health authorities have recommended that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors due to the rapid pace at which the virus is reviving. State officials have not yet changed their recommendations, allowing vaccinated people to leave the house without wearing masks. Swartzberg pointed out that despite the fall in infections since spring, the sharp increase in new cases still represents a small number of people. The 7-day average daily state case rate was 7 per 100,000 people as of Sunday. This is a significant increase from the 2 per 100,000 recorded in early June, but still lower than the 109.3 for 100,000 January. Hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline, despite being a bit later than new cases for a few weeks. As of Sunday, the average daily death rate for 7 days was 0.01 per 100,000. This is down from 1.7 per 100,000 in January.
New restrictions might be necessary due to the Delta variant’s transmissibility high and rapid spread even in the highly vaccinated Bay Area, where many people still wear masks.
Swartzberg stated that the Delta variant’s transmissibility was so much higher than any we’ve seen. I believe the Bay Area was smart in recommending indoor masks for everyone. If the current trajectory continues, the Bay Area may have to force it. Let’s hope it is enough to flatten the curve.