Uptick In COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations Likely Due To Delta Variant
Health officials are beginning to notice cases of COVID-19 rising, a trend that is likely due to the Delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in California.
In San Diego County 579 cases were recorded on Thursday of last week, while 501 were reported Friday, 467 on Saturday and 439 on Sunday. It was around early March when daily reported cases were in that range. COVID-19 vaccines were made available to those 70 and older in mid-January and everyone in the state ages 50 and older beginning April 1, then to everyone age 16 and up on April 15.
Some experts believe the more contagious Delta variant is driving the uptick in cases, largely among those not vaccinated.
"Delta is really infectious," said infectious disease researcher Shane Crotty at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology. "And it is a bigger problem — it’s easier to catch — it’s easier to transmit."
Crotty said the good news is that the vaccines protect against the Delta variant.
"At this point you’re either vaccinated or you’re going to catch the Delta variant and if you’re not vaccinated and you catch Delta you’re more likely to end up in the hospital than anything else you’ve caught in your life," Crotty said.
If more people are not vaccinated, Crotty said Delta could bring back restrictive measures meant to protect public health, like mandatory masking which is now in effect for indoor spaces in Los Angeles.
"We don't currently have a high enough vaccination rate in California or in San Diego to stop Delta," Crotty said.
Even though the vaccines are still under emergency use authorization from the FDA, Crotty said all the safety data is there, and believes it is now just a matter of time before federal regulators give full authorization.
"You know a lot of people have been saying, 'Hello you should probably really pick up the pace on checking through the paperwork because we have a pandemic going on,'" Crotty said. "The safety data are fantastic, the protection data are fantastic, the inclusiveness of the vaccine trials was fantastic."
In San Diego while hospitalizations are still relatively low and not at winter levels that nearly overwhelmed healthcare systems, they are rising and with more cases coming in, that trend may continue.
"Increased admissions — increased ICU (intensive care unit) admissions," said UC San Diego's Chief of Pulmonary & Critical Care Dr. Jess Mandel about their current COVID-19 situation.
Mandel added nearly all the coronavirus hospitalizations they are currently seeing are among patients who are unvaccinated.
"We’re dealing with severe illness that in many cases are preventable," he said. "It really is heartbreaking when you have folks that are incredibly sick: the trauma to themselves their families and just think how much of this could have been prevented with vaccination."
Mandel said UCSD Health is ready to scale up operations if necessary and that officials need to increase efforts to reach those who are vaccine hesitant.
Kaiser San Diego officials said the increase in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and infections is worrisome. "Although we are nowhere near the previous surge numbers that nearly overwhelmed our hospitals and ICUs at the height of the pandemic last winter, we share public health officials’ concerns," a Kaiser spokesperson said.
A Scripps Health spokesperson said Monday they too are starting to see an increase in coronavirus hospitalizations, having had 20 hospitalized patients as of July 1, which has now gone up to 50.
"These numbers are still a far cry from our peak last January, when we had as many as 500 hospitalized patients with COVID-19," a Scripps spokesperson said. "However, the recent increase is worth monitoring and continued vigilance is still really important."
A Sharp HealthCare spokesperson said they too are seeing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Meanwhile, Palomar Health officials said they have seen upticks in people admitted the hospital and ICU, but volumes are still relatively low.