New COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations remain on a steep incline in the Sacramento area. Virus activity across the region is at its highest level in about five months, with no immediate signs of easing up.
The Sacramento County health office, which on Thursday issued an order once again making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces, reported its latest seven-day average for new cases at 22.6 per 100,000 residents, more than quadruple the rate of 5.4 reported one month earlier.
The county had 197 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to state data updated Thursday, its most since Feb. 18. Nearby Placer County recorded 79, its highest count since Feb. 12.
Sacramento County health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said during a call with reporters Thursday morning that the current surge can be attributed to the increased spread of the delta variant and the poor local vaccination rate.
Delta growing even more dominant
An overwhelming majority of recent COVID-19 cases are the highly contagious delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, based on new evidence, is as contagious as chickenpox.
Sacramento County epidemiology program manager Jamie White said on Thursday’s call that for the week of July 18 to July 24, every COVID-19 case sample the county submitted for variant testing returned positive for delta.
Lab resources to test for variants are limited in Sacramento County and most of California, but the UC Davis Genome Center sequences nearly all positive cases among Yolo County residents.
The latest results from UC Davis are also staggering: 111 of 119 samples (93%) from Yolo that same week were confirmed as delta. The lab did not detect any other variants of concern, such as alpha, beta or gamma.
The California Department of Public Health, in a Wednesday update recommending indoor masking regardless of vaccination status, wrote that delta is believed to be twice as contagious as original strains of COVID-19.
Delta has made up more than 84% of cases tested for variants statewide in July, CDPH reported Thursday. It accounted for 53% in June and just 6% in May, when alpha remained dominant.
“When we got to June 15, we were heading in the right direction,” Kasirye said, referencing the date when California dropped most of its restrictions including the mask mandate for the fully vaccinated. “What has happened in the meantime is that the delta variant has become the dominant variant.”
Statewide test positivity has soared almost eightfold, from 0.8% in early June to 6.2% by Thursday. Hospitalizations have jumped from 1,050 to 3,605 in the past month, a 243% increase.
Health experts nationwide have expressed grave concern about the delta variant. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, called COVID-19 delta “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of.”
New evidence showing the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and may be more dangerous than other versions has prompted U.S. health officials to consider changing advice on how the nation fights the coronavirus, internal documents show.
Recommending masks for everyone and requiring vaccines for doctors and other health workers are among measures the agency is considering, according to internal documents obtained by the Washington Post.
The documents appear to be talking points for CDC staff to use in explaining the dangers of the delta variant and “breakthrough″ infections that can occur after vaccination. Noted under communications: “Acknowledge the war has changed.”
Leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the world is “dealing with a different virus now,” though the vaccines in use have continued to prove effective in preventing severe illness.
The documents point out that the delta variant, first detected in India, causes infections that are more contagious than the common cold, flu, smallpox and Ebola virus, and is as infectious as highly contagious chickenpox.
The internal documents also cite studies from Canada, Singapore and Scotland showing that the delta variant may pose a greater risk for hospitalization, intensive care treatment and death than the alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom.
Since January, people who got infected after vaccination make up an increasing portion of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths among COVID-19 patients, according to the documents. That trend coincides with the spread of the delta variant.
But the CDC emphasizes that breakthrough infections are still uncommon.
Vaccinated vs. unvaccinated numbers
Serious illness remains rare for the vaccinated, even with delta.
White said just six of Sacramento County’s 130 COVID-19 hospital admissions in June were fully vaccinated, meaning 95% of hospitalized cases were not. None of the 18 county residents who died of COVID-19 last month were fully vaccinated. White did not immediately have numbers available for July.
Yolo County officials said that on July 22, 10 of 12 hospitalized virus patients were not fully vaccinated.
The Yuba-Sutter bicounty health office this Wednesday reported 12 Yuba County residents hospitalized with COVID-19, its highest tally since early March. None of the 12 are fully vaccinated, according to the local health office. Yuba has one of California’s lowest vaccination rates, at about 36% of residents fully vaccinated.
Sacramento County on Thursday reported 49% of its residents are fully vaccinated, trailing California’s overall rate of 54%. State data show about 55% of Sacramento residents have had at least one dose, compared to 62% statewide.
“Our goal has been 70% and we continue to try to reach that,” Kasirye said.
CDPH data show an uptick in new first-dose vaccinations in almost every California county over the past couple of weeks, including notable increases for Sacramento and Yuba.
White said Thursday that there have still been far fewer doses administered in July compared to June. However, she said the county has seen “a huge increase in requests for pop-up (vaccination) sites” recently. These requests come from businesses, community-based organizations, churches and other local entities.
“Really the message is, get the vaccine before it’s too late,” White said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.