LOS ANGELES (AP) — California health officials pleaded with people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as infections and hospitalizations continued a worrying rise and three Bay Area counties urged employers to enforce mask-wearing among those who haven't had the shots.
California on Thursday reported nearly 5,600 new cases and the average positive-test rate over seven days was 4.9% — a nearly five-fold increase over last week.
The state Department of Public Health said 99% of cases between Jan. 1 and last week were among those who haven't been vaccinated, and as of last week, those without such protection were six times as likely to catch the illness, based on the average case rates.
In California’s capital, UC Davis Medical Center was seeing twice as many COVID-19 patients on any given day compared to last month.
“We’re all thinking that another surge is likely,” said Christian Sandrock, director of critical care for the Sacramento facility. “It is frightening. I don’t think we’ll go back to the worst we’ve seen, due to the vaccine, but it’s hard to tell.”
So-called community outbreaks — meaning three or more cases in one setting involving people from different households — have been reported in dozens of restaurants, bars, offices and businesses since the state rescinded its tough mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements on June 15.
Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, reinstituted a mask-wearing requirement last weekend for indoor settings.
Los Angeles and San Diego counties reported an 80% increase in new COVID-19 cases over last week. LA County saw about a 20-fold jump from a month ago and San Diego County's daily case total was the highest since February.
It’s a trend seen across much of California, with increases in infections led by the highly transmissible delta variant that has proliferated since the state fully reopened the economy last month.
“Given that about 4 million residents in LA County are not yet vaccinated, the risk of increased spread of this variant within our county, obviously, remains high,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
About a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the health department, crowds were sparse Thursday at a county-run vaccination site in LA’s Eugene A. Obregon Park. Volunteers outnumbered those arriving to get shots.
Sofia Alvarez and Saray Rangel brought their daughters.
Both families had the virus last year and each mother still has lingering effects, like loss of taste and shortness of breath.
Alvarez and Rangel already had received their shots. Rangel’s daughters — 13-year-old Jaslyn Minchaca and 15-year-old Melanie — got their first doses, while Alvarez’s kids — 13-year-old Sarah Villicana and 12-year-old Valeria — got their second shot.
The girls said they were worried about being around unvaccinated people and are still wearing masks.
Rangel said she was initially worried about how the vaccine could affect her kids, but with the delta variant proliferating, she decided to make their appointments.
“You hear so many things, you don’t know what to think or what to do,” she said.
On Thursday, health officers in Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties in the San Francisco Bay Area urged employers to require vaccinations for workers and mask-wearing for those who weren’t fully vaccinated.
“The choice is to either get the vaccine or get COVID,” Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said Thursday. “Unvaccinated workers pose a risk not only to themselves but also to their coworkers and the public they interact with.”
In that county, an unvaccinated person is over 20 times more likely to get the virus than someone fully vaccinated.
Some vaccinated people have come down with COVID-19, including seven students this week at Stanford University. However, health officials say vaccinations make getting the illness harder and the symptoms less severe.
Farnitano stopped short of saying employers could fire people who refused to comply but said “employers have an obligation to provide safe workplaces for their employees.”
The San Francisco Bar Alliance, which represents 500 businesses, said this week that it’s considering asking customers to show proof of vaccination. In Los Angeles, a growing number of bars and restaurants are requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival.
The California Restaurant Association said it encouraged the use of vaccines and masks as way to prevent “a need for even more restrictive measures.”
“An economic recovery can’t happen in a meaningful way without people working together to make COVID a thing of the past,” association CEO Jot Condie said in a statement.
Adrian Luna, owner of the Taqueria El Sol buffet in LA’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, requires all customers to wear masks.
Luna said in Spanish that he’s asked most of his regulars if they are vaccinated — and many are.
Vaccinated himself, Luna said he wishes everyone would get their shots. He’s nervous about the delta variant but says he can only protect himself, his family and his business so much. With residents returning to Dodgers games and concerts, he’s at a loss for how his restaurant can do anything more.
Associated Press photographer Damian Dovarganes contributed from Los Angeles.