SBC officials urge vaccination and masking amid delta surge
Fully vaccinated individuals who contract the Delta variant can spread the disease just as easily as unvaccinated individuals, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.
According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the new data informed the agency’s decision to reverse previous masking guidance on Tuesday. The agency is now recommending that all people, regardless of vaccination status, mask up indoors in areas with widespread disease transmission.
The data released Friday details an outbreak investigation in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where 74% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 after several superspreader events were fully vaccinated individuals. In the report, the agency said that fully vaccinated individuals who contract the Delta variant carry similar viral loads as those who are unvaccinated.
“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement on Friday. “This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation. The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones.”
Friday’s published findings came after numerous national outlets obtained an internal CDC report on Thursday that said the Delta variant is more contagious than the common cold or Ebola and spreads just as easily as chickenpox. The Washington Post reported that the federal health document said health officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”
In response to the CDC report released Friday, Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease researcher with Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic, told the News-Press that the new data gives backing to earlier CDC data that showed the delta variant is more transmissible than previous variants circulating in the U.S.
The latest data from the CDC reveals that the delta variant is 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant, which was the most common strain of COVID-19 before the delta variant gained a foothold in the U.S.
Dr. Fisk said that while the vaccines are proving that they are not perfect at preventing transmission, they remain the best method to ward off severe disease and death associated with COVID-19. Even after the release of Friday’s data, health officials say breakthrough infections remain rare among those who are fully vaccinated.
“For those of us who have been vaccinated, our chances of coming down with COVID are dramatically reduced compared to someone who has not been vaccinated,” Dr. Fisk said. “The latest estimates from the CDC info on delta virus said that we have an eight-fold reduction in our risk of acquiring the disease.”
With the delta variant causing increased case rates in Santa Barbara County, Dr. Fisk said it is time to “alter behavior” and mask up in order to protect others. He said at this point, large indoor gatherings should be curtailed and all people should wear a mask indoors.
Outdoor activities, however, remain safe for people to go maskless at this point in time, Dr. Fisk added. He said the only time he recommends masking outdoors is when people are crammed together in a large group outside without space to spread out.
“If we take these steps now, that will afford us greater freedom in the future,” Dr. Fisk said. “By masking and limiting indoor gathering it will allow us to continue to have more activities to keep the delta variant from getting worse.”
As Santa Barbara’s iconic Fiesta celebration is set to begin next week, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department released recommendations Friday to keep the community safe. Ahead of the celebration, the department is recommending that community members in attendance wear a mask, maintain social distance when possible and wash hands often.
In recent weeks, Santa Barbara County has seen a spike in cases associated with the delta variant. As of Friday, the county’s case rate was 9.8 per 100,000, which would place the county in the purple tier of restrictions if the tier system still existed, according to a news release.
The county currently has more than 400 active cases, which is a 55% increase from the previous 2-week average. Of those testing positive, 86% are unvaccinated individuals as of July 20, according to a news release from the public health department.
On Friday, the public health department reported 93 cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths. Officials reported 25 new cases in Santa Maria; 18 new cases in Santa Barbara and unincorporated area of Mission Canyon; 17 cases in Isla Vista; 13 in Lompoc and the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village; six cases in the unincorporated Goleta Valley and Gaviota; three infections in Orcutt and the South Coast unincorporated area of Summerland, Montecito and the City of Carpinteria; and two new cases in the Santa Ynez Valley, Goleta and the North County unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama and New Cuyama and the City of Guadalupe.
To slow the spread of the virus, the public health department is recommending that people wear masks in all indoor spaces outside of the home, avoid crowded events and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, the landscape has changed dramatically from last year’s summer surge”, Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county public health director, said in a statement. “We have the safe, effective solution to stop this surge in its tracks. We need every eligible member of this community to act and get vaccinated as soon as possible. There are still 149,688 persons eligible to be vaccinated in Santa Barbara County, who have not been vaccinated.”
As of Friday, 61.7% of the county’s eligible 12 and older population was fully vaccinated, and 70% had received at least one dose. Of the county’s entire population, 52.3% of people are fully vaccinated.