By the time the Fourth of July rolled around, California’s COVID clock was already ticking upward to over a thousand new cases per day after the state reopened in June, a time when the case rate was in the low hundreds. Thursday’s number is 7,984; 46 people in California died yesterday of COVID. Unvaccinated people made up 13 cases per 100,000 residents on average, while the case rate among vaccinated people was two.
In Santa Barbara, the Public Health Department was watching for the post-holiday uptick, which began to show in a sharp spike of 50 cases 10 days after the Fourth; this Friday, it rose to 73 new cases. That’s a 90 percent increase in the rate of new cases over two weeks ago, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s health officer, announced at Public Health’s blog on Thursday.
California’s newly identified COVID cases were led by Los Angeles County, which began to report more than 3,000 infections per day within a week of the holiday. Masks were once again mandatory indoors in L.A. by that Friday, before a weekend of heat and humidity in the 80s.
When it gets hot and muggy, a lot of Angelenos get out of town, advice the state was already promoting by encouraging residents to vacation and spend their money within California. Many head up the coast to Santa Barbara, where hotels are enjoying a much-needed reversal of the privations of the pandemic year, if the city’s bed taxes are any indication.
In April 2020, the first full month of the shutdown, the transient occupancy tax dropped 93 percent compared to 2019; it went up 1,400 percent in 2021. The numbers tell only part of the story, the city’s Finance Department added. Occupancy was up only slightly when the fiscal year ended this June, just one percent. The increase in tax was due to a 20-55 percent hike in hotel rates during the past three months. Overall, the city received 10 percent less than it forecast, or $15.5 million for the year.
While Santa Barbara has yet to adopt a mask mandate, face coverings are recommended indoors, especially in places where everyone’s vaccination status is unknown. The troubling increase in COVID cases is due to the Delta variant, health officials agree. Nationwide, the Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of new cases the Centers for Disease Control announced on July 20. In California, Delta rose from 52 percent in June to 82 percent this month, which still has a week to go.
Those trained in the classics might wonder how the variant names jumped from Alpha to Delta. Variants named for the missing Greek letters, Beta and Gamma, have not persisted as strongly as the U.K. and Indian variants. Gamma, or the variant first spotted in Brazil and Japan, was rising in the spring but is down to 6 percent in the state. In Santa Barbara, however, which has been late to the variant game, Gamma actually rose by one case in the latest set of results — from two to three — though 19 cases were sequenced in April.
The hospitalization rate, which has been a reliable indicator for COVID levels due to delays in testing and case reporting, is also ticking upward, rising from 9 cases on July 8 to 25 cases two weeks later. Compared to the two-week average of 14 people in the hospital with COVID, Public Health put the increase at 79 percent. As far as people known to be ill, that number went from 53 to 271 individuals over the same two weeks. Three people died during that period, two in North County, one in the Santa Barbara area. All had compromised health; one was over the age of 70, the two others between 50 and 69 years old: Their vaccination status is unknown. In June, Ansorg has said, all the COVID deaths occurred in people who were not vaccinated. Full vaccination among people older than 12 stands at 61 percent.
The available vaccines are effective against all the identified variants, Ansorg noted, though “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated people are occurring. The clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines found they conferred 94-95 percent immunity to COVID, which means a 5-6 percent chance remains of picking up the virus. Amid the millions of shots given, it’s one in several thousands given. So far, breakthrough cases have been mild and not required hospitalization.
Those who are unvaccinated face quite a risk, given the Delta variant’s doubly strong infectious ability. Ansorg put it at a 15 times greater likelihood to get infected and become ill. “The new surge is truly a wave of unvaccinated people falling ill and spreading the virus to others,” he said.
Whether it’s the fear of the shot or a belief that the emergency authorizations for the vaccines are inadequate to ensure safety, fewer people are coming to be vaccinated. Cottage Hospital will close its parking lot setup after one last clinic on July 29 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. All three vaccines will be available, the Pfizer for anyone over the age of 12, and it’s a walk-up, no-appointment-needed service that has delivered 113,247 shots to date.
At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor. Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution.