Residents of rural California counties with low vaccination rates died from COVID-19 at significantly higher rates during the summer wave of Delta coronavirus variants than those in better vaccinated areas such as the San Bay area. Francisco and Southern California, a Los Angeles Times data analysis found.
The findings show how vaccinations reset the recent course of the pandemic and illustrate what health officials have long argued: that high levels of vaccine coverage better protect an area against the worst of the coronavirus.
Many health officials have endorsed the imposition of injections as a condition of employment and, in some cases, recreation in hopes of avoiding a potential new wave over the winter.
Los Angeles County has officially implemented vaccine verification requirements at some indoor businesses, including bars, wineries, nightclubs and lounges. And the city of Los Angeles is proposing even more drastic rules, which are expected to go into effect on November 8, which would extend the requirement to indoor restaurants, gyms, malls, movie theaters, hair and nail salons and many other places.
These targeted vaccination requirements “offer our best hope of returning to low transmission more quickly and hopefully ending the flare-ups,” said Barbara Ferrer, LA County Director of Public Health.
Unlike the fall-winter wave, which devastated the denser urban communities of Southern California, the latest Delta wave hit rural and agricultural areas across the state – infecting, hospitalizing and killing residents of some counties at times. unprecedented levels.
By far, rural northern California and the San Joaquin Valley have had the lowest vaccination rates: only 44% of residents of all ages are fully vaccinated in the north, and 45% are vaccinated in the agricultural hub. from California.
Both regions also reported some of the state’s highest COVID-19 death rates for the summer. For every 100,000 people who live in each region, 33 died from COVID-19 this summer in rural northern California, as did 22 in the San Joaquin Valley.
In contrast, 13 in Southern California died this summer and 7 in the Bay Area, per 100,000 people who live in each of those areas. These two areas have the highest vaccination rates in the state: 58% of residents of Southern California are fully vaccinated and in the Bay Area the rate is 70%.
The analysis adds weight to what health officials have been saying for months: COVID-19 vaccinations are very effective and the misinformation that is spreading about vaccine ineffectiveness is not based on reality.
“The take home message for everyone is that vaccines save lives. Get vaccinated and save your life and the lives of your loved ones, ”said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, UCLA epidemiologist and infectious disease expert.
In early September, the state health authorities calculated that Unvaccinated Californians were 17 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their fully vaccinated counterparts.
Vaccination rates in the Bay Area are considered among the highest in the country, and even some risk-averse doctors who abruptly stopped dining out as the delta surge worsened are now optimistic.
In San Francisco, 75% of residents of all ages have now been fully immunized – well above the comparable rate for California as a whole of 60%. And in UC San Francisco hospitals, the rate at which asymptomatic people test positive for coronavirus is surprisingly low – 0.4%.
“I can now eat indoors in SF. Everyone must find their comfort zone. … I reached mine, ” tweeted Dr. Robert Wachter, chairman of the medical department at UC San Francisco.
San Francisco is set to lift indoor mask requirements next week in environments such as gyms and indoor offices, as long as everyone inside is vaccinated.
Santa Clara County has reported one of the lowest summer COVID-19 death rates in California – 5 deaths per 100,000 population. That’s quite a feat for the Silicon Valley house, which recorded the first COVID-19 death in the country. San Francisco and Santa Clara County have both erased substantial disparities in vaccination rates by race and ethnicity, an important factor in reducing coronavirus transmission.
“Our public has, by and large, adopted the COVID prevention measures we have talked about and asked everyone to do. And because of that, our rates are pretty low, ”said Dr. Sara Cody, director of public health and Santa Clara County health officer. “We had a fourth wave, but it was relatively blunt compared to the experience in other parts of the state and the country.”
In contrast, counties with the highest death rates have abysmal vaccination rates. In California counties with the nine worst COVID-19 death rates, less than half of residents have been vaccinated. The county with the worst death rates is Del Norte County, a sparsely populated county of less than 30,000 people in the northwestern corner of the state, with 91 deaths per 100,000 people. Only 39% of residents are fully vaccinated there.
The local medical society begged residents to get vaccinated. “We will continue to work, of course. But we are tired. We are tired of the suffering, pain and death that can be avoided by getting the vaccine ”, wrote. “You have trusted us with all other aspects of your health. Please trust us.
Hard-hit hospitals have been so strained that the National Guard has been activated to send aid to places like Bakersfield and Redding. Fresno County was forced to transfer critically ill patients over 100 miles because its hospitals were so full.
Only 50% of Fresno County residents have been fully immunized. “It’s just tragic that we are still seeing patients arriving who just haven’t had the chance to get the vaccine, haven’t received the right information, unfortunately have been misinformed”, Dr Rais Vohra, Fresno County Acting Health Officer. officer, said at a recent briefing.
Across the San Joaquin Valley, hospitals reported having less than 10% of their staffed adult intensive care beds available for most of the past month.
“We know that the number of deaths is still increasing, even if the other numbers are decreasing, and that is exactly what we expect for this increase,” Vohra said last week. “So I think we will continue to increase the number of deaths, unfortunately, throughout October.”
The Southern California Delta surge was nowhere near as bad as the winter surge, but its vaccination rates still need to be dramatically improved. Los Angeles County reported that only 60% of its residents are fully immunized – the same as the state of California rate, and its summer death rate of 15 deaths per 100,000 population was close to the rate of 14 statewide.
Improving pandemic trends could change “if we don’t keep up the momentum on increasing immunization rates,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of LA County Health Services.
In Orange County, 62% of residents are fully vaccinated and the county has one of the lowest death rates in the state, 9 per 100,000 population. Of those who died in August, 94% were unvaccinated, said Dr Regina Chinsio-Kwong, an assistant county health worker.
“We could have lost more people to Delta if we hadn’t had the vaccination rate that we had, and we are seeing it in other states,” she said at a recent briefing .
Officials from Los Angeles and Orange counties said vaccination rates needed to improve further. Chinsio-Kwong urged parents and caregivers of children too young to be vaccinated to be especially careful until their children can get vaccinated.
In order to enjoy the holidays as usual, “we have to be careful in October,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “So that means, yes, maybe you should change your activity to be outside in order to have better ventilation. Yes, that means maybe I should wear a mask when I’m out. inside, especially even though I’m in a restaurant, I think that’s a great tip.
Times editor Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.