Coronavirus cases climb past 200 per day as Delta variant spreads
County poll says 54 percent of unvaccinated not likely to change their minds
San Diego County logged 355 cases of COVID-19 Monday, the largest single-day increase since April 9, public health officials said Tuesday as they released a survey that shows many county residents continue to resist getting vaccinated.
Dr. Wilma Wooten, the region’s public health officer, told the county Board of Supervisors that there had been an average of 159 new cases per day reported to her department over the previous two weeks, compared to just 78 during the two weeks prior to her last presentation on June 8.
The health department also released fresh daily new-case figures for the past week, showing that the number of new cases arriving daily has exceeded 200 since July 7.
Cases associated with the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus also continue to rise quickly, hitting 107 in Tuesday’s presentation. That’s nearly twice as many as the 54 listed in the county’s last variant report released on July 9.
Arriving as they do a week to 10 days after the Fourth of July weekend, increasing case numbers are starting to show the public health community just what to expect when a partially-vaccinated population parties far and wide without masks for the first time since the pandemic arrived in early 2020.
This is the true test everyone has been waiting for. Are the 1.9 million fully vaccinated residents in San Diego County enough to keep small outbreaks from quickly growing large, or do momentary conflagrations of cases burn bright in groups with low vaccination rates, then fizzle when they encounter the edges of herd immunity?
The Delta variant, with its ability to transmit more easily, cause more severe illnesses and better evade some protective antibodies, is clearly the wildcard in the current situation.
Frustratingly, there is currently no real-time way to directly understand just what percentage of the newly positive test results reported daily were caused by the variant first identified in India. Because it takes two to three weeks to perform the genetic analysis necessary to tell one variant from another, the numbers available today reflect what the situation was in late June, not mid-July. And, for various technical reasons, not every positive test is analyzed, meaning that, while the number of positively-identified Delta cases are small, they likely represent a much larger group among samples not analyzed.
Still, Wooten said that the upward trend visible in the numbers that are available, even if they are weeks old, point toward eventual dominance by the Delta variant.
“We anticipate that San Diego may follow national trends and the Delta variant may become the most-common strain reported locally,” Wooten said.
Once again, as her department did last week, Wooten noted that the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths occurring recently have been among the unvaccinated. Since March, San Diego’s 1.9 million fully-vaccinated residents have averaged 1 case per 100,000 residents compared, Wooten reiterated, to more than six cases per 100,000 among the unvaccinated.
Those numbers, though, did not seem to be terribly persuasive among those who still have not scheduled their first vaccination appointments, many of whom decried the county’s continued cries to get stuck as coercive and un-American.
A survey of 4,297 county residents conducted from June 13 through June 24 found that 54 percent of the 822 survey respondents who said they were unvaccinated were either somewhat or very unlikely to get vaccinated in the future.
More than half of the unvaccinated respondents cited side effect concerns as a reason why they remain reluctant, with general distrust in vaccines coming in second.
Among the 496 who said they are unlikely to get vaccinated, concerns about possible undetected long-term side effects were most-commonly cited, followed by worries that vaccine development was rushed and of possibly experiencing very rare side effects such as blood clots.
Those concerns, and many more, were on display in public comments made before and during Tuesday’s monthly COVID-19 report to the board.
Several, including Suzanne Lockyer of San Diego, urged county leaders to defy the state in its recent edict that school-aged kids must continue wearing face coverings on California campuses even though federal guidance says fully-vaccinated students can go mask free.
“Enough is enough,” Lockyer said. “Our kids have sacrificed the most, yet have the least at risk.”
The new school year, she and others said, should set faces free.
“Let the kids be kids again, let them smile again,” Lockyer said.
Supervisor Jim Desmond agreed, making a motion during Tuesday’s meeting to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, urging the state to go its own way on K-12 masking, allowing parents to decide whether or not their students should be masked when attending classes in person.
“In the same way we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, let’s also prioritize the growth and well-being of our kids and let them attend school without masks,” Desmond said.
Though he got a second from colleague Joel Anderson, the supervisor’s motion died on a 3-2 vote with supervisors Nora Vargas, Nathan Fletcher and Terra Lawson-Remer in opposition.
Lawson-Remer was clearly very conflicted about her vote, beginning to cry as she described her daughter’s struggles to learn to speak during the pandemic. Though she said she cannot help but feel that masking contributed to what she termed a developmental delay, the supervisor said she felt that the need to prevent transmission in schools narrowly outweighed the clear benefit of learning sans face coverings.
In the end, she said, K-12 schools, especially those serving kids younger than age 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated, still could serve as an easy way for the Delta variant to do damage, moving from family to family on playgrounds and in classrooms.
While many argued that there would be no harm in that adults can now be vaccinated, the supervisor said she couldn’t forget about those who cannot get shots due to health conditions or for whom shots are not effective enough due to compromised immune systems.
“It means that other people don’t have the choice as to whether they’re exposed to someone else’s risk, and people don’t have the choice as to whether they’re exposed to potentially dying,” Lawson-Remer said.
The county board also voted Tuesday to accept $24 million in federal funding to continue targeted vaccination efforts in neighborhoods throughout the region with vaccination with low vaccination rates.
Get Essential San Diego, weekday mornings
Get top headlines from the Union-Tribune in your inbox weekday mornings, including top news, local, sports, business, entertainment and opinion.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the San Diego Union-Tribune.