COVID messaging muddled as cases jump

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The future of the pandemic is uncertain as state and federal agencies advance mixed messaging and local and statewide COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue.

​In California, a sense of re-emerging normalcy coincides with apprehension. The state’s overall COVID-19 case rate is still low but Los Angeles County – the most populous county in the U.S. – could be a bellwether for what awaits the rest of the state.

​On July 8, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health reported a 165 percent increase in COVID-19 cases and a doubling of the county’s case rate during that week.

​The surge in cases is happening as a coronavirus strain known as the Delta variant becomes dominant in Los Angeles County, which has a full vaccination rate of 60 percent among adult residents.

​Hospitalizations are also increasing there but the county’s public health officials uphold vaccination as a hedge against both serious illness and death.

​There isn’t consensus on how well vaccines protect against infection.

​Federal and state agencies have decreed that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks, suggesting that they’re not likely to spread COVID-19.

​But the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on not testing vaccinated people unless they’re symptomatic is leading to a limited understanding of transmission risk.

​There’s growing concern that vaccinated people can contribute to the spread of disease. The CDC has stated that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks but the agency’s guidance is fuzzy when it comes to schools.

​Updated CDC guidance released on July 9 states that unvaccinated people should wear masks in schools. Vaccinated people are only advised to wear masks if social distancing can’t be achieved.

​Although California has generally adopted the CDC’s advice on limiting mask-wearing to unvaccinated people, it reacted to the new guidance by requiring that everyone wear masks in schools.

​The concerns about the Delta variant – and its even worse offshoot, Delta-plus -- grow as cases surge in countries with lagging vaccination rates. Countries with good vaccination rates have also seen Delta-related case hikes, including the UK, Scotland and Israel.

​Mixed messaging continued last week with the Pfizer corporation’s July 9 announcement that it will develop a booster vaccine to respond to concerns about fading effectiveness.

​Later the same day, The CDC and the federal Food and Drug Administration issued a joint statement indicating there’s no evidence that booster shots will be needed.

​Again on the same day, the World Health Organization was quoted in a Reuters report as stating, “We don’t know whether booster vaccines will be needed,” as “there is limited data available on how long protection from current COVID-19 vaccine doses lasts.” 

​Recent news headlines have trumpeted research suggesting that vaccine protection is long-lasting but that’s based on a study that focused on only 14 participants.

​Other research, also with limited pools of participants, suggests that vaccine protection could wane within a year.

​There is consensus, however, that the vaccines being used in the U.S. and locally are still very effective at preventing serious illness and death.

Yet there is a trend of emerging variants becoming increasingly vaccine-resistant, with Israel’s Ministry of Public Health reporting that since early June, a “marked decline” has been noted in infection protection of the Pfizer vaccine due to the Delta variant.

​The Delta variant is present locally and county Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman has said that it will inevitably become prevalent.

​In a July 7 press release, the county advised that “with new cases on the rise across the state and the presence of the more contagious Delta variant in the community, public health officials continue to advise all eligible residents to get fully vaccinated.”

The county is working to get more residents vaccinated, setting up mobile clinics at the well-attended community events that have resumed since June 15, when a statewide reopening kicked off.

​Humboldt’s rate of full vaccination among adults rose a percentage point last week, to 48 percent.

​There were 61 new COVID-19 cases detected in the county last week. The county’s new case detection hinges on testing, which has become erratic.

​The county’s case total as of July 9 was 4,647. On July 7, the county announced three more COVID-19 hospitalizations, bringing the total to date to 214.

​Fifty-one residents have died of COVID-19, including last week’s death of a person over the age of 80.


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