Until a month ago, it looked like the Coronavirus would be on its way into a long winter’s nap in well-vaccinated and masked California. Gov. Gavin Newsom had boasted that California is leading the nation in terms of its yellow level of community virus transmission, the highest tier recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, cases of COVID-19 are not falling in California anymore. CDC’s red “high” level of infection transmission is once again being reached by the highly contagious Delta variant.
As for outbreaks in Deep South states, they have ceased in areas that have abandoned mask orders, opposed mandatory vaccinations, posted lower vaccination rates, and have seen larger outbreaks over the past year. With California having now surpassed Texas’ case rate and Florida having doubled its own, the CDC, therefore, lowered the orange “substantial” level.
“There are early indications that the decline in the Delta surge at the national level in the U.S. has ended,” noted Professor Ali H. Mokdad of the University of Washington,
“which runs a widely followed model projecting the course of the pandemic. Currently, 19 states have increasing transmission, including several like California “that had previously appeared to have been declining.”
Much of California’s current Coronavirus issues have been caused by the virus spreading through under-vaccinated and under-resourced counties. The vast majority of counties in the Bay Area remain stuck in orange despite aspired to reach yellow moderate by now. California’s Marin County and Santa Cruz County, which had reached yellow, are now orange, while San Francisco remains the only yellow county.
This has real consequences for Bay Area residents. The local health department has reimposed the indoor face mask requirement regardless of vaccination status and will not lift the order until counties achieve a three-week low orange rating, among other things.
How Come Golden Staters Don’t Reap The Rewards After Following Health Guidance?
“You’re paying for your success, which is weird,” Mokdad stated. “You succeed in controlling the virus, and now you’re having infections.”
The issue is not that the health guidance isn’t sound, but rather that other factors are at play. Once enough immune individuals are no longer present to infect, outbreaks burn out. Vaccination and infection recovery can help people to gain immunity to the disease.
In California, where vaccination levels are higher than in the Southeast, a smaller number of cases were reported over the summer when a Delta variant swept across the country, mostly affecting those who had not been vaccinated. Once they have recovered, they have immunity too, preventing the spread of the disease.
“These regions are now being partly protected by high prior infection rates,” said Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the medical department at the University of California-San Francisco. “But these people whose immunity comes from COVID are not very well protected, and their immunity will wane with time.”
Vaccination rates in California may be on par with others, but not enough to prevent outbreaks. California currently has 62% of its total population fully vaccinated, while Florida has 60%, Texas has 54%, Georgia has 49%, Louisiana has 48%, Mississippi has 46%, and Alabama has 45%. This means one out of three Californians is still unvaccinated.
California schools were ordered to wear face masks over the summer, and other public buildings in the Los Angeles and Bay Area also made an effort to combat the virus. Those who are unvaccinated, especially those who haven’t contracted the disease, are still at risk.
As a result of their combination of vaccinations and infections, Southeast states that saw big summer outbreaks now have fewer left who are susceptible to the virus than in California. But “they got there at a heavy price.”
A number of other factors also played a role. While Californians enjoy more moderate weather out in the surf and sand, the hot, humid summers in the Southeast drive people indoors where the virus spreads easily. As the fall weather cools, Californians are also compelled to stay indoors.
Also, immunity from vaccinations and infections diminishes over time. As the spring draws to a close, Californians who queued up for vaccinations early have begun to wonder how long they will be protected.
People with weak immunity, older adults, or those with high exposure risks are usually given booster shots, increasing their protection from infection. The additional shot was only given to 30% of California’s 65+ population, the same as in Texas and Florida where it was 29% and 27% respectively.
The immunization of newly eligible children and unvaccinated adults, booster shots, and wearing masks during winter can prevent the likely rise in infection levels.
How Likely People Heed The Call Or Warning?
“California has done very well over the past few months, but we still have too many unvaccinated people,” Wachter told. “People are spending more time inside and being more active, and masking is going down.”
He explained that, together with waning immunity and low booster uptake, “the end result is that we’ve plateaued in our improvements, both nationally and in California, and it’s likely we’ll soon see some significant upticks.”