California will fully reopen its economy next Tuesday under remarkably favorable conditions, with COVID-19 risk declining rapidly and new cases being reported at their lowest level in 14 months.
The state has recorded the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the country for several months, a gap that has ended despite the end of several restrictions and the rise of new forms. The numbers and rapid rollout of vaccinations have given public health officials even more confidence that life can return to parts of normal without the dire surge that thwarted California’s two previous attempts to restart.
California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with 56% of residents of all ages – and 71% of adults – receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. At least 70% of adults in thirteen states are now at least partially vaccinated, achieving the target set by President Biden ahead of the Fourth of July target.
That rollout of vaccines, especially in California’s most populous areas, has helped to tame COVID-19 and reduce transmission. In addition, one factor, especially in Los Angeles County, during the devastating boom over the past 15 months is the immunity of many survivors of COVID-19.
At its peak in January, the state was reporting 45,000 coronavirus cases a day. Now, California is reporting an average of less than 1,000 new coronaviruses per day in the most recent seven-day period, according to data compiled by The Times.
The last time the case count was low was on March 31, 2020 – when the pandemic began to roar for life and testing was so limited that many infections were likely to be reduced.
Not so this time. California’s latest seven-day average comes in at 990 new coronavirus cases per day, the Times data shows, even as nearly 129,000 tests were conducted daily. At the end of 2020, the earliest time reliable data were available, only 50,000 tests were conducted per day.
COVID-19 hospitalizations are now at the lowest level since California began systematically tracking the figure on March 30, 2020, when 1,617 people with COVID-19 were in hospitals. As of Wednesday, there were 1,001 people with COVID-19 in California hospitals, the most recent data available; That’s 95% less than a peak of about 22,000 hospitalizations reported in early January.
An average of 32 COVID-19 deaths are now being reported daily in the past one week, which is the lowest since April 4, 2020. At its peak, California was reporting 549 COVID-19 deaths a day over a weekly period.
“At the moment, California is doing very well with respect to COVID,” the state’s public health official and director of the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Tomas Aragon, said this week.
That doesn’t mean there’s no risk of future outbreaks, especially since 44% of Californians are still partially vaccinated. While officials and experts alike acknowledge that the removal of some guardrails could speed up transmission, there is a growing belief that COVID-19 will now be much easier to control because so much of the population is protected.
“We believe we will stress-test our system because there will be a lot of mobility,” Aragon said. “Our Goals During This Transitional Period” [are] To control transmission, monitor variants and achieve herd immunity while continuing with our vaccines. “
The biggest concern now for many officials is persuading people who haven’t been vaccinated.
“In all respects, from a vaccine standpoint, California is doing pretty well,” California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Galli told reporters on Wednesday. “That said, we are continuing our work to make sure that Californians who want to be vaccinated have questions about vaccines … that they have a chance to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Officials and experts say the work becomes even more urgent, as California has less than the level of vaccine coverage — typically estimated at between 70% and 85% — needed to finally put the pandemic in the rearview mirror. is believed.
Only 46% of residents across the state are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received either Pfizer-BioNtech or both shots of Moderna Vaccines or the single required dose of Johnson & Johnson, the Times data shows.
An unknown number of residents who have not been vaccinated may also be temporarily armored against the coronavirus because they developed natural immunity after being infected.
By the end of May, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services an estimate That 63% of residents there were protected from COVID-19 – 38% due to prior infection.
“It’s really important to note that if a state has had a bad winter boom … it certainly contributes to natural immunity,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco.
Combined with relatively strong vaccine coverage, Gandhi said he does not think California will retreat into a worse wave of the pandemic.
“It’s a completely different time because we have vaccinations – so we have the immunity that makes it so there’s not going to be an increase when we start getting that,” she said.
There are still concerns about localized outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates, such as rural Northern California and the Central Valley. A potential problem could be that too few farmworkers are getting vaccinated, a particular risk because they travel extensively across the state’s vast agricultural areas.
Gaps also persist between racial and ethnic groups. In LA County, young Latino and black people continue to receive fewer vaccinations than their white, Asian or Native American counterparts.
If the virus re-emerges in a group of people with immunity, further flare-ups are possible.
“We’ve all worked really hard to get these community transmission rates down a lot — and they’re low across the board,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “But when you start to see that even with lower numbers, case rates are higher in populations that have less vaccination coverage, you know it doesn’t take long to make a big difference. And because of the problem with variants, you can move from a relatively small number of cases to a few large outbreaks, leading to a very high number of cases.”
The pace of vaccination in California has also slowed significantly in recent days – reflecting a nationwide trend.
This is not surprising, as many have already rolled up their sleeves, and exemplifies the challenging road that still lies ahead. Many of those eager to get vaccinated have probably already done so, leaving a small group of holdouts who are either hesitant to get shots, or have run into some sort of access barrier that prevents them from doing so. is.
At the height of the vaccination campaign, providers were delivering about 400,000 vaccine doses per day across the state, according to data compiled by The Times.
This average has since dropped to about 135,000 daily doses.
“While it is possible for us to have a successful reopening even as vaccination numbers are slow, it will boost our confidence in our ability to keep cases down if we see more and more vaccines,” Ferrer said.
To entice those who remain on the fence, the state is conducting a vaccine lottery that will award 30 Californians a $50,000 cash prize. Fifteen of those winners were selected last week, and the rest will be determined on Friday. Officials will draw on 10 grand prize winners on Tuesday, each taking home $1.5 million.
Effective the same day, California will repeal many restrictions for fully vaccinated people who have long been a part of daily pandemic life.
Coronavirus-related capacity restrictions and physical distancing requirements will be lifted in almost all businesses and other institutions. The months-old system of sorting counties into color-coded tiers to determine how widely activities can resume and businesses can reopen will be retired.
Californians who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will also be able to leave their face masks on in most situations. However, people who have not been fully vaccinated will have to continue their vaccination in businesses and other indoor public settings. (Fully vaccinated employees will need to wait until June 28 before no longer being required to wear masks in indoor workplaces.)
“When the capacity limits and distancing requirements are lifted next week, there will be some very real risk to people who haven’t been fully vaccinated,” Ferrer said. “For these individuals, in particular, once we reopen, your best protection will be your mask.”
Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.