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California health officials report signs of ‘encouraging’ Covid trends but warn residents not to let their guard down

<i>Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images</i><br/>Magda Arredondo
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Magda Arredondo

By Cheri Mossburg and Christina Maxouris, CNN

California health officials say the number of new Covid-19 infections reported statewide appears to be leveling off and recent trends are showing “encouraging” signs following a surge of cases and hospitalizations driven by the Delta variant.

The state reported roughly 11,769 new cases on Thursday, according to the California Department of Public Health. That’s down from 12,359 reported this time last week but up from 10,450 reported two weeks ago. Statewide, the positivity rate is 5.4%, down from a high of 7% on July 31.

The number of new cases reported is plateauing in areas of the state with higher rates of vaccination, officials said.

“We’re hopeful the rate of cases is plateauing in some regions within the state,” the health department said in a statement to CNN.

Covid-19 hospitalizations, which tend to peak later than cases, are still on the rise.

“We are seeing a lag in hospital admissions, and it appears that some of our highest numbers were last week,” the department added.

Roughly 8,265 people are hospitalized with the virus across the state — 1,982 of whom are in the ICU, according to the department.

That’s up from last Thursday, when roughly 7,779 people were hospitalized with Covid-19. It’s also up from two weeks ago, when about 6,629 people were hospitalized with the virus.

Early indications of a possible peak in California come as the country hits a grim milestone in its latest Covid-19 surge: More than 100,000 people are hospitalized with the virus in the US for the first time since January. That number is also more than double what it was during this time last year — when vaccines were not yet available.

But there is a glimmer of hope: An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that new Covid-19 hospitalizations will likely remain stable, or will have an uncertain trend, over the next month. That was the first time since mid-July that the forecast did not project increasing hospitalizations.

‘Highest priority is to get the unvaccinated vaccinated’

Like in other parts of the US, California officials have largely attributed their surge of infections and hospitalizations to unvaccinated people. Case rates among the unvaccinated are 708% higher than those who have gotten their shots, state health officials said.

In Los Angeles County, which is leading the state in Covid-19 hospitalizations, health officials said this week the Covid-19 infection rate among unvaccinated people was 4.9 times the rates of vaccinated people and the hospitalization rate was 29.2 times the rates of vaccinated people.

“The data continues to provide reassurance that fully vaccinated people are protected from severe COVID-19 illness,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said in a statement. “Together we must continue to increase COVID-19 vaccinations, in coordination with other prevention strategies like masking, testing, contact tracing, and quarantine; these efforts are critical to preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.”

State officials also warn now is not the time for residents to relax and throw caution to the wind.

“While current trends are encouraging, one thing we have learned with COVID-19 is that we cannot let our guard down — our highest priority is to get the unvaccinated vaccinated,” the state’s public health department officials said in their statement to CNN.

Earlier this month, California became the first state to require all employees in healthcare settings to be fully vaccinated against the virus. The state also issued another health order requiring that hospitals and nursing homes verify that visitors are fully vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus.

Teachers and other school employees must also be vaccinated or submit to regular testing — a requirement that has the support of at least two unions representing more than 550,000 California teachers.

“We think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the number one anxiety that parents like myself have for young children, and that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this month.

More than half of California’s population, including Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, is also required to wear masks while in indoor public spaces.

Roughly 65.8% of Californians have been fully vaccinated, state data shows.

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