By Jackie Fortiér/LAist

Originally published Jul 1, 2021 4:03 PM

Los Angeles County could be on the brink of another wave of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant, health officials said Thursday.

New COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates have more than doubled in L.A. since most of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, including a public mask mandate, were lifted on June 15.

“Given that we have large numbers of unvaccinated people in Los Angeles County, four million in total, including 1.3 million children not yet eligible to be vaccinated, another wave could become a very real possibility,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the County Public Health Department.

The rising number of cases prompted Ferrer to recommend that everyone, including fully vaccinated people, wear face masks in public indoor spaces. While the coronavirus vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness and death, and only a tiny fraction of vaccinated people have tested positive, Ferrer said it’s not yet known if vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant and symptomatic can spread it to others.

“We are looking for the answer to that question …. the call to wear that mask is an acknowledgment that the Delta variant is different from the other variants we’ve seen,” she said.

Ferrer also pushed back against criticism of the county’s masking guidance.

“It looks like fully vaccinated people may in fact be getting infected with the Delta variant at a higher rate than we’ve seen with other variants, so we should pay attention to that and we should be cautious,” Ferrer said.

However, mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains unchanged. The CDC says that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors in most settings.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the Delta variant now makes up about 25% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. She said she expects it to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, Walensky said the daily national average of new coronavirus cases is up 10% from last week and warned that the Delta variant could spread in unvaccinated populations.

That’s already reflected in L.A.’s numbers. Ferrer said the new COVID-19 cases disproportionately affect communities of color, “where many of our essential workers live.”

Countywide, about 68% of eligible people 16 and older have gotten at least one dose of the vaccines, and nearly 60% are fully vaccinated. Acknowledging that fewer people are choosing to get vaccinated as the summer continues, Ferrer stressed their effectiveness.

“If you’re fully vaccinated, you have very little risk of becoming seriously ill. The most important thing is to get more people vaccinated.”

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2021 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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