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As California reopens, 6 things you need to know about COVID-19

Nurse Trysta Almeida brings a tablet into the room of a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit for a video visit at El Camino Health's Mountain View campus on Jan. 14, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Fifteen months after Californians faced their first COVID-19 stay-at-home order, most mandates will be lifted on Tuesday. And what a journey it's been — just months ago, hospitals were overwhelmed with severely sick people seeking scarce beds.

But while California's outlook is brighter, COVID-19 remains a very real threat. Even though the state's infection rate and hospitalizations are at an all-time low, the pandemic isn't over. People are still dying from COVID-19, just at lower rates than six months ago.

Restrictions like physical distancing and mask-wearing offered some protection to people who have not yet been vaccinated, and now that most of those are going away, infections are expected to start rising, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at University of California, San Francisco.

As of Friday, 54.6% of eligible Californians — everyone 12 and older — have been fully vaccinated. Another 11% have received one dose.

But as vaccine demand fades, public health officials worry how new infections will play out among those not yet protected. Will the state see another uptick in cases? Who is vulnerable and where?

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Here are six things you should know about where infections, deaths and vaccinations stand today.

Infections and hospitalizations are down, but not gone

At the peak of the pandemic, 17% of people in California tested for COVID-19 were infected. For about a month now, it's been under 1%.

Last week, California recorded between 792 to 1,136 new infections every day. That's comparable to the early days of the pandemic last spring.

Hospitalizations also have been on a downward trend for several months. As of Friday, 1,263 people statewide were hospitalized with COVID-19 and another 261 were in intensive care. During the mid-January peak, more than 22,000 infected people were hospitalized and more than 4,800 were in ICUs.

It's a new record low: Hospitalizations are now less than half what they were in mid-October, when around 3,000 infected people were hospitalized, according to the 14-day average.

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At one point in the winter, nearly two dozen counties had fewer than 10 available ICU beds. In many cases, hospitals had to turn away patients or transfer them to hospitals hundreds of miles away.

The tragedies, however, remain. Fifty-five more people were added Friday to California's pandemic death toll, which now includes 62,593 people.

In the past few weeks, California has recorded among the lowest numbers in daily COVID-19 deaths, with numbers similar to April 2020.

California isn't close yet to herd immunity

About two-thirds of eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. And as the governor likes to remind us, California has administered almost 16 million more doses than the next most populous state, Texas.

State health officials don't set a vaccination goal for herd or community immunity, since children under 12 — 15% of the population — cannot yet be vaccinated and previously infected people may already be protected.

But experts say that 70% to 85% of the total population must be fully vaccinated to reach large-scale protection against the virus.

The state tracks vaccination progress for those eligible by county. As of last week, Marin County led with 75% vaccinated among its 12 and older population. Lassen County ranked last with 22%. The top six counties with the highest percentage of vaccinated populations are in the Bay Area.

Outbreaks are still possible

Experts say another wave of infections is possible. But they add that it probably won't be as severe as the past surges, when labs were overwhelmed with tests and hospitals exceeded their capacity.

"Let's not forget that this is an ongoing pandemic," said Andrew Noymer, epidemiologist at University of California, Irvine. For example, "in Orange County, Latino males are lagging in vaccination, so that is a group that is still at risk," he said.

Come fall or winter, it is likely the state will see another wave of infections, he said.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary, said he expects to see outbreaks, especially in counties with lower vaccination rates. "It's at those moments of an outbreak that we need to be ready to vaccinate additional people," he said.

That also means smaller, rural counties may still run the risk of overflowing their hospital systems if they experience an outbreak. "We know capacity is least in rural counties, and those counties also have lower vaccination rates," Bibbins-Domingo said.

Blacks and Latinos still at high risk

About 56.5% of Black residents and 55% of Latinos have not been immunized, compared to 38% of white residents and 15.5% of Asian Americans, according to the state's vaccination breakdown.

'They say, "well my comadre hasn't gotten vaccinated, so I'm not sure I want to."'

-Dr. Efrain Talamantes, internist, AltaMed, East Los Angeles

That means the groups that were harmed the most by the virus are still facing the most risk. Mistrust in the health system and vaccine hesitancy are barriers, but experts say access issues, like the inability to take time off work and lack of transportation are likely the bigger issue.

Dr. Efrain Talamantes, chief operating officer at AltaMed in East Los Angeles, has found that some patients are not necessarily against getting immunized, but just need a little more time or information to make up their mind.

Among Latinos, there is usually a community effect, he said. When one family member gets vaccinated, others tend to follow. But it works both ways. "They say, ‘well my comadre hasn't gotten vaccinated, so I'm not sure I want to,'" Talamantes said.

Many seniors aren't vaccinated, and most kids aren't even eligible

A significant portion of California's seniors — about 1.5 million of them — have not yet been vaccinated, despite being among the most vulnerable to the virus. Seniors make up almost 16% of the state's population, but 73% of COVID-related deaths. Still, 22% of them have not been vaccinated.

People 65 and older have been eligible for shots since mid-January, although the first few weeks were riddled with confusion and supply issues.

Many seniors may be facing access issues. If they don't drive, they likely rely on family members' schedules. If they are ill or homebound, they might be waiting for public health departments and providers to come to them.

Experts say it also will be important to see how infections play out among kids, many who will be heading back to the classroom soon for the first time in a long time. About 34% of children ages 12 through 17 have received at least one dose.

Vaccines for the approximate 6 million children in California younger than 12 years may not be available well until the fall. Last month, Pfizer said it expects to seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine for kids 2 to 11 years old in September.

You may need a booster shot

Ghaly said there are two reasons people may need booster shots — waning immunity and the need for additional protection because of a more dangerous variant.

"I pray that it is very unlikely that it's the variant problem," Ghaly said. But if needed, California is ready to re-up mass-vaccination efforts, he said.

Like with many other diseases, immunity from vaccination can decrease eventually, but because COVID-19 is new, it's unclear how long protection will last.

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Email Ana B. Ibarra at [email protected] CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Penner Family Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics. Read more state news from CalMatters here.

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As California reopens, 6 things you need to know about COVID-19

by / CalMatters

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 15, 2021, 9:15 am

Fifteen months after Californians faced their first COVID-19 stay-at-home order, most mandates will be lifted on Tuesday. And what a journey it's been — just months ago, hospitals were overwhelmed with severely sick people seeking scarce beds.

But while California's outlook is brighter, COVID-19 remains a very real threat. Even though the state's infection rate and hospitalizations are at an all-time low, the pandemic isn't over. People are still dying from COVID-19, just at lower rates than six months ago.

Restrictions like physical distancing and mask-wearing offered some protection to people who have not yet been vaccinated, and now that most of those are going away, infections are expected to start rising, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at University of California, San Francisco.

As of Friday, 54.6% of eligible Californians — everyone 12 and older — have been fully vaccinated. Another 11% have received one dose.

But as vaccine demand fades, public health officials worry how new infections will play out among those not yet protected. Will the state see another uptick in cases? Who is vulnerable and where?

Here are six things you should know about where infections, deaths and vaccinations stand today.

At the peak of the pandemic, 17% of people in California tested for COVID-19 were infected. For about a month now, it's been under 1%.

Last week, California recorded between 792 to 1,136 new infections every day. That's comparable to the early days of the pandemic last spring.

Hospitalizations also have been on a downward trend for several months. As of Friday, 1,263 people statewide were hospitalized with COVID-19 and another 261 were in intensive care. During the mid-January peak, more than 22,000 infected people were hospitalized and more than 4,800 were in ICUs.

It's a new record low: Hospitalizations are now less than half what they were in mid-October, when around 3,000 infected people were hospitalized, according to the 14-day average.

At one point in the winter, nearly two dozen counties had fewer than 10 available ICU beds. In many cases, hospitals had to turn away patients or transfer them to hospitals hundreds of miles away.

The tragedies, however, remain. Fifty-five more people were added Friday to California's pandemic death toll, which now includes 62,593 people.

In the past few weeks, California has recorded among the lowest numbers in daily COVID-19 deaths, with numbers similar to April 2020.

About two-thirds of eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. And as the governor likes to remind us, California has administered almost 16 million more doses than the next most populous state, Texas.

State health officials don't set a vaccination goal for herd or community immunity, since children under 12 — 15% of the population — cannot yet be vaccinated and previously infected people may already be protected.

But experts say that 70% to 85% of the total population must be fully vaccinated to reach large-scale protection against the virus.

The state tracks vaccination progress for those eligible by county. As of last week, Marin County led with 75% vaccinated among its 12 and older population. Lassen County ranked last with 22%. The top six counties with the highest percentage of vaccinated populations are in the Bay Area.

Experts say another wave of infections is possible. But they add that it probably won't be as severe as the past surges, when labs were overwhelmed with tests and hospitals exceeded their capacity.

"Let's not forget that this is an ongoing pandemic," said Andrew Noymer, epidemiologist at University of California, Irvine. For example, "in Orange County, Latino males are lagging in vaccination, so that is a group that is still at risk," he said.

Come fall or winter, it is likely the state will see another wave of infections, he said.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary, said he expects to see outbreaks, especially in counties with lower vaccination rates. "It's at those moments of an outbreak that we need to be ready to vaccinate additional people," he said.

That also means smaller, rural counties may still run the risk of overflowing their hospital systems if they experience an outbreak. "We know capacity is least in rural counties, and those counties also have lower vaccination rates," Bibbins-Domingo said.

About 56.5% of Black residents and 55% of Latinos have not been immunized, compared to 38% of white residents and 15.5% of Asian Americans, according to the state's vaccination breakdown.

That means the groups that were harmed the most by the virus are still facing the most risk. Mistrust in the health system and vaccine hesitancy are barriers, but experts say access issues, like the inability to take time off work and lack of transportation are likely the bigger issue.

Dr. Efrain Talamantes, chief operating officer at AltaMed in East Los Angeles, has found that some patients are not necessarily against getting immunized, but just need a little more time or information to make up their mind.

Among Latinos, there is usually a community effect, he said. When one family member gets vaccinated, others tend to follow. But it works both ways. "They say, ‘well my comadre hasn't gotten vaccinated, so I'm not sure I want to,'" Talamantes said.

A significant portion of California's seniors — about 1.5 million of them — have not yet been vaccinated, despite being among the most vulnerable to the virus. Seniors make up almost 16% of the state's population, but 73% of COVID-related deaths. Still, 22% of them have not been vaccinated.

People 65 and older have been eligible for shots since mid-January, although the first few weeks were riddled with confusion and supply issues.

Many seniors may be facing access issues. If they don't drive, they likely rely on family members' schedules. If they are ill or homebound, they might be waiting for public health departments and providers to come to them.

Experts say it also will be important to see how infections play out among kids, many who will be heading back to the classroom soon for the first time in a long time. About 34% of children ages 12 through 17 have received at least one dose.

Vaccines for the approximate 6 million children in California younger than 12 years may not be available well until the fall. Last month, Pfizer said it expects to seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine for kids 2 to 11 years old in September.

Ghaly said there are two reasons people may need booster shots — waning immunity and the need for additional protection because of a more dangerous variant.

"I pray that it is very unlikely that it's the variant problem," Ghaly said. But if needed, California is ready to re-up mass-vaccination efforts, he said.

Like with many other diseases, immunity from vaccination can decrease eventually, but because COVID-19 is new, it's unclear how long protection will last.

Email Ana B. Ibarra at [email protected] CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Penner Family Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2021 at 11:48 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2021 at 11:48 am

This is a very generic article. It mentions many counties in California, but not Santa Clara County which is most relevant to us here in Palo Alto.

Santa Clara County's numbers of vaccinations are nearing San Francisco's numbers which are the best in the state. I am not sure about Palo Alto's vaccinations but with a postcode that straddles two counties, that could well skew Palo Alto numbers.

If the Weekly is going to publish articles about California, it would be worth putting in our own numbers also.


Leland J.
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 15, 2021 at 12:59 pm
Leland J. , Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2021 at 12:59 pm

Thanks for posting this misleading, emotional “news” story highlighting all of the risks while celebrating none of the miraculous victories thanks to the vaccine.

For instance, It was reported today (NYTimes) that Israel reached population immunity with only 61% vaccinated. The US is close to that right now, actually we’re as high if you take out the 12 year olds. And the US has much higher natural antibodies bc so many people already had it.

So the statement that “experts believe we need 70-85% vaccine rates for immunity” has
Not been borne out by actual data in the real world.

It just goes on and on. Why not just say the truth: today is a great milestone, let’s continue to take care of each other and urge those in minority communities to get vaccinated. The vaccines work!”


Adrian Lochner
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2021 at 1:38 pm
Adrian Lochner, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2021 at 1:38 pm

The SARS Covid-2/19 virus had already been making its rounds prior to the December 2019 announcement by the PRC and there is no end in sight for future mutations as we have already witnessed.

The two theories still in play are whether Covid-19 was man-made or the result of mankind further encroaching on natural habitats where viruses have an opportunity to jump from animals to humans.


Artemis Beecher
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jun 15, 2021 at 2:26 pm
Artemis Beecher, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2021 at 2:26 pm

I will continue wearing a face mask even after I receive my second vaccination.

And hopefully the second shot will enable me win one of Governor Newsom's innoculation lottery prizes.


menlo mom
Registered user
another community
on Jun 15, 2021 at 3:54 pm
menlo mom, another community
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2021 at 3:54 pm

@Leland J: I was thinking the same thing. Why is it always the good news given in a quiet voice, followed always by lots and lots of doom and gloom said in a loud voice. And my frustration on general (not just with this article) is the lack any discussion of natural immunity. A friend from Italy told me that there everyone gets tested for antibodies before their vaccine, and those who possess them only need one shot. Makes sense to me. I had COVID in October, got vaccinated in April and feel like I was stealing shots from someone who needed it more than me.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jun 16, 2021 at 7:39 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2021 at 7:39 am

"This is a very generic article."

Maybe it's a press release. Calmatters.org. Do people bother to read the article, or do they just go straight to the comments section?

Hopefully vaccinations will increase throughout California and herd immunity will be reached. California is trying their best with their incentive programs.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2021 at 8:14 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jun 25, 2021 at 8:14 pm

"But if needed, California is ready to re-up mass-vaccination efforts, he said.”

I’m so happy to live here in California knowing how well our great Governor Newsom and Ghaly would be on top of this if a booster shot is needed.

The simpletons only want the good news and don’t want to hear the so called doom and gloom. It’s true that the good news is if you are fully vaccinated you are likely to be very safe barring a rare breakthrough infection. On the flip side the pandemic is far from over. We are in a global social and medical crisis where events in one country can quickly lead to events in another country. In fact, the summer tourism season has started and people are traveling with all of those new more dangerous variants circulating. The word "pandemic" comes from the Greek "pan-", "all" + "demos," "people or population" = "pandemos" = "all the people." A pandemic affects all (nearly all) of the people. In fact today the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks. That goes for you too people of Palo Alto despite the CDC saying everything is all safe and all once you are fully vaccinated. Sorry for the so called doom and gloom but someone needs to look out for their fellow Paloaltonians.

Web Link


Cecilia Vegas
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jun 26, 2021 at 8:32 am
Cecilia Vegas, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 26, 2021 at 8:32 am

-- We are in a global social and medical crisis where events in one country can quickly lead to events in another country. In fact, the summer tourism season has started and people are traveling with all of those new more dangerous variants circulating.

Then why not further restrict or curtail international travel into the United States for the time being?

If visitors and tourists are bringing in the new Covid-19 variants, keeping them out of this country is a reasonable public health measure.


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