by Grant Marcus

Two months ago in a previous Power to Speak (“Are we really ready to completely open the state of California?”, June 17, 2021) I questioned whether we were ready to reopen in light of coronavirus variants, including Delta. At the time of that article, cases had tripled but mildly climbed in Ventura County, from 10 to 30 a week.

A month later, we are up to 485 cases every other day, or well over a 100-fold increase, and over 200 cases a day in the last week. In the two weeks preparing this article, the numbers keep skyrocketing. There are now more people in patient hospital from COVID-19 and the Delta variant (123) than ever before in Ventura County. Delta is fast becoming our greatest surge.

This should not be surprising to medical personnel, epidemiologists and scientists. New information from the British Medical Journal gives the Delta variant an R-19 value, making it equal to measles, the most contagious disease in all human history. The CDC concurs that this new strain is far more contagious. What many Ventura County residents do not realize is that the new Delta variant changes everything about the pandemic, and it should also fundamentally change our approach to the disease.

ER doctor, columnist, author and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen stated, “The virus is quicker, sicker and younger. I must be much more cautious so I don’t bring the disease home to my children.”

A new parent of children too young  to be vaccinated, Dr. Wen is alarmed. She points to our biggest problem, that only 50% of the country is fully vaccinated, while most are going maskless at large venues. And this “will lead to greater transmissibility and more variants,” she says.

She also points to another problem: Impoverished countries don’t have access to the vaccine and are only 2-30% vaccinated  “If we don’t share the vaccine with the world,” says Wen, “the virus will share the world, and it will return here as Delta has done in even more dangerous strains of the disease.”

As predicted, Delta is horrific timing for California, which has completely reopened to packed bars, beaches, theaters and stadiums without any mask requirements or social distancing.  Governor Newsom isn’t helping as well as he should be, as he faces a September runoff, and likely fears that any ambitious response will be politicized.

While schools are set to reopen shortly, there are no masking mandates and those fully vaccinated in Ventura County hover at 65%, meaning that 3-1/2 people in 10 have no protection against a new strain far more contagious. And our very young children are returning to school without the opportunity to be vaccinated. 

In Ventura County, the disease is affecting ages 18-29 the most. These new cases are frightening, but provide us with flag warnings that can help guide us toward better prevention, so we don’t repeat mistakes that have occurred in other states across the country.

One silver lining is that the fully vaccinated are protected from the new Delta variant. 92% of those hospitalized were unvaccinated while 99% of those in ICU and on ventilators were unvaccinated. All those who have died from Delta were unvaccinated. Of the 20% of those fully vaccinated who tested positive for the new strain, most did not require hospitalization because they were protected by the vaccine. 

This is a quintessential moment in Ventura County to change our behavior and our approach to Delta — and, yes, get vaccinated.

The more difficult fact to face about our current rate of rising infection is that the same people who refuse to wear masks are the same people who refuse to be vaccinated. They are also the greatest spreaders of the disease. This will have deadly consequences for our county. The disease will rapidly spread throughout the entire community and tragically overwhelm our hospitals quickly, and the sick will not be able to get the care they will need. And this means more people will die that didn’t have to as a result.

The Delta variant is mounting at warp speed and has already become 90% of the cases in Los Angeles County.  One thousand people were hospitalized in LA in just one day.  Ventura County should see this as a cardinal sign of what’s to come.

What changes everything is Delta’s’ power of contagion.  We no longer can afford to play politics. Our rights, at this point, should be to stay alive and survive in these trying circumstances, protect our families and communities and minimize transmission by: vaccination, masking, hygiene, social distancing and non-gathering until all Ventura County is fully vaccinated. 

What I need to say here and now directly to those anti-vaxxers in particular: NOW is the time to VAX-UP. Help save lives in our community.

The sooner we all get vaccinated, the sooner the possibility we can defeat this disease and return to normal.

 

Grant Marcus is a retired RN and climate researcher, who lives in Ventura