The United States is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said Sunday.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, describing himself as “very frustrated.”
He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is “under active consideration” by the government’s leading public health officials. Also, booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Fauci said.
Fauci, who also serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he has taken part in conversations about altering the mask guidelines.
Nearly 163 million people, or 49% of the eligible U.S. population, are vaccinated, according to CDC data.
Mask Mandate: Pasadena officials issued an updated health order Wednesday, reinstating the use of masks for everyone in indoor public settings and businesses, regardless of vaccination status, starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
The order requires face coverings for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, in all indoor public settings, venues, gatherings and businesses.
Examples of these settings include but are not limited to:
• Retail stores
• Grocery stores
• Restaurants, bars, pubs and breweries when not eating or drinking
• Gyms and fitness centers
• State and local government offices serving the public
Businesses, individuals and venue operators or hosts of public indoor settings must require patrons to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, and post signage at entry points communicating the masking requirement for all patrons.
Private gatherings are not subject to masking requirements and at this time no capacity restrictions or changes to other business operations are included in the health order.
The California Department of Public Health requires indoor masking for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in K-12 school settings. The longer you wait to get vaccinated, the greater the risk of contracting COVID-19, and infecting a friend, loved one, or coworker.
The mandate comes as both Pasadena and L.A. County have seen sharp increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Since June 15, when most restrictions from the state were lifted, the average daily incident case rate of COVID-19 in the city of Pasadena has increased by 586% to reach the “Substantial Transmission” level of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Indicators for Levels of Community Transmission.
The testing positivity rate in Pasadena has also risen to the “Substantial Transmission” level. In Los Angeles County where a large proportion of the people who work, visit, or patronize businesses in Pasadena reside, the rate of COVID-19 cases has increased to the “High Transmission” level, introducing even greater risk of transmission in Pasadena. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 both locally and throughout Los Angeles County have more than doubled.
In addition, the significantly more transmissible Delta variant of the virus has become the predominant strain in the U.S. and has been detected in specimens collected from Pasadena residents with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, from multiple unrelated households.
Recent real-world evidence supports research findings that suggest authorized vaccines are highly protective against hospitalization and death from infection with the Delta Variant, and people who are fully vaccinated are much less likely to be contagious or transmit the virus to someone else.
However, data are still being gathered and analyzed for additional clarity on rates of infection among fully vaccinated individuals and their role in transmission, which is an important reason for everyone to mask indoors right now.
In considering options to stem this rapid increase in COVID-19 transmission, a continued increase in the vaccination rate is paramount, but additional measures are needed. Universal indoor masking is the least disruptive and most effective additional measure to take. All individuals, especially those who are unvaccinated or at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, should take personal measures to reduce risk in addition to masking.
The new health order will be available at www.cityofpasadena.net/covid-19 on Wednesday night.
The numbers are not good: A relentless surge of coronavirus cases continued in Los Angeles County on Thursday as another 2,700 cases were reported, with the percentage of infections occurring among fully vaccinated residents steadily rising. More than 3,000 new coronavirus infections were reported in Los Angeles County on Friday, the first time since Feb. 13 the number has topped that level. The 3,058 new cases reported Friday lifted the cumulative total for the pandemic to 1,279,171. More than 10,000 new cases have been reported in the last four days, with the daily number topping 2,500 for three consecutive
Health officials have repeatedly blamed the current surge in cases on the highly infectious delta variant of the virus. The variant was first discovered in India and is blamed for rampant infections in that country, along with outbreaks in the United Kingdom. It is now spreading across the United States, contributing to rising case numbers and hospitalizations.
During the month of June, 20% of all newly reported virus infections in the county occurred among people who had been fully vaccinated. That was up from 11% in May and 5% in April. But Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the increase is normal given the continued rise in the number of people who are getting fully vaccinated.
She also stressed that fully vaccinated people who become infected generally have extremely mild cases — a benefit the vaccines have always promised.
People who are fully vaccinated are still getting infected should not be viewed as the shots being ineffective, and should not be used as an excuse for people to avoid getting the shots. When the vaccination program began, the primary benefit cited was their ability to prevent people from ending up hospitalized or dying from the virus. With the county seeing rising infections — the vast majority among those who are unvaccinated — infections are expected to occur among some who have gotten the shots. And she noted that absent the vaccines, infection numbers would be much higher.
According to the county, among roughly 4.85 million fully vaccinated residents from Jan. 19 through Tuesday, 6,520 tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 0.13%. That’s up from a rate of 0.09% last week.
Of the fully vaccinated people in that period who tested positive, only 287 were hospitalized, for a rate of 0.0059% of the vaccinated population, up from 0.0045% last week. There were 30 vaccinated people who died, a rate of 0.0006%. The most recent figures provided by the county Thursday show that 5.3 million of the county’s roughly 10.3 million residents are fully vaccinated, a rate of roughly 52%. About 1.3 million county residents are ineligible for shots because they are under age 12.
The county reported 2,767 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest daily number since February. The new cases lifted the county’s cumulative total since the pandemic began to 1,276,137. It was the 14th straight day of daily case numbers that topped 1,000. Another 13 deaths were reported, raising the overall death toll to 24,607.
According to state figures, there were 655 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19, up from 645 on Wednesday. There were 148 people in intensive care, up from 140 a day earlier. The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose slightly to 5.26% on Thursday, compared to 5.2% a day earlier. The rate one month ago was 0.7%.
Health officials have pointed squarely to the highly infectious delta strain of coronavirus for the recent surge in cases locally and across the country. The variant, first detected in India, has increased in prevalence statewide, and it now represents the vast majority of confirmed variants in the county.
Ferrer again insisted that the current vaccines offer strong protection against the delta variant, and she continued to urge residents to get vaccinated. Young Black and Latino residents continue to have the lowest rates of vaccination in the county.
Black residents also had the highest rate of new infections over the last month, at 181 per 100,000 residents. Latino residents have traditionally had one of the highest infections rates throughout the pandemic, but over the past months, white residents accrued a higher rate, at 83 per 100,000 residents. Latinos had an infection rate of 62 per 100,000 residents.
Black residents also had the highest rate of hospitalizations over the month, followed by Latinos and Whites.
In hopes of encouraging more people to get vaccinated, the county is continuing to offer incentives. Between Friday and next Thursday, anyone who gets vaccinated at sites operated by the county, the city of Los Angeles or St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a chance to win one of seven concert ticket packages at AEG venues, for a variety of acts.
COVID-19 vaccines are available through the Pasadena Public Health Department at no cost. Children 12 and over are eligible to receive the vaccine. For more information and to register for an appointment, visit MyTurn.ca.gov or www.cityofpasadena.net/public-health/covid-19-vaccine/#vaccination-sites.
Unemployment: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week from the lowest point of the pandemic, even as the job market appears to be rebounding on the strength of a reopened economy. The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims increased last week to 419,000, the most in two months, from 368,000 the previous week. The number of first-time applications, which generally tracks layoffs, has fallen steadily since topping 900,000 in early January. In California, claims rose by 1,334 to 58,259.
Economists characterized last week’s increase as most likely a blip caused by some one-time factors and partly a result of the inevitable bumpiness in the weekto- week data. Applications for jobless aid jumped last week, for example, in Michigan, where some auto plants temporarily have shut down production because of supply shortages.
Americans are shopping, traveling and eating out more as the pandemic has waned, boosting the economy and forcing businesses to scramble for more workers. Companies have posted the highest number of available jobs in the two decades that the data has been tracked. Hiring has picked up, though businesses say they often can’t find enough employees at the wages they’re willing to pay. At the same time, analysts are becoming concerned about the potential economic consequences of a tick-up in confirmed viral infections as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, especially among the unvaccinated. The seven-day rolling U.S. average for daily new cases accelerated over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 as of Tuesday, from fewer than 13,700, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Complaints by companies that they can’t find enough workers have led 22 states to prematurely end a $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit, which comes on top of state jobless aid. Twenty states have ended their participation in two other federal programs — one of which provides benefits to the self-employed and gig workers and another that serves people who have been out of work for six months or longer.
The long-term decline in applications for jobless aid coincides with accelerating economic growth. The U.S. economy is thought to have expanded briskly during the April-June quarter as Americans, flush with cash from stimulus checks and from stock market and home equity, stepped up their spending. Purchases at retail stores and restaurants rose in June, the government said last week. Retail sales are roughly 20% above prepandemic levels. The ranks of the jobless have declined as companies have stepped up hiring. In June, employers added a healthy 850,000 jobs, further evidence that the reopening of the economy was driving a robust recovery.
The Economy: President Joe Biden’s administration is beginning to make $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities — a tenfold increase in the program paid for by this year’s COVID-19 relief bill.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said her agency on Thursday will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help struggling cities and towns make long-term investments to drive development for years to come. Applications for the grants are available at the website for Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.
“This is about real help for communities across the country as they rebuild,” Raimondo said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s about longer-term investments to help communities build themselves back from the bottom up in the ways that work best for them.”
The grants will be targeted at supporting local infrastructure, job training programs and developing new industries. Recipients will be selected on the basis of the anticipated return on investment to taxpayers, which Raimondo said at Thursday’s White House briefing would involve job creation and racial and gender equity goals. She estimated that 300,000 jobs would be created by the grants in the near term.
The administration hopes that the competitive nature of the program will also coax private businesses and philanthropies to focus on rehabilitating their communities by making their own development commitments. There will be $1 billion available for 20 to 30 regions to spend on projects that would rebuild their economies, as well as $750 million in grants targeted for travel, tourism and outdoor recreation.
A full 10% of the total will be earmarked for coal communities, which have struggled for decades amid the nation’s shift away from fossil fuels and are set to bear the economic brunt of the Biden administration’s even more aggressive efforts to move toward clean energy technologies.