Coronavirus has begun to creep back up in Kern County following larger increases in the surrounding area. This time, though, new cases have been almost completely confined to unvaccinated individuals.
Since Jan. 21, 99.4 percent of COVID-19 cases have occurred in people who have not received a vaccine, the Kern County Public Health Services Department reported to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The date is the earliest possible time somebody could be fully vaccinated from a vaccine administered in the county as the vaccines first became available to Kern officials on Dec. 17.
No vaccinated people have died from COVID-19 in Kern County.
The report comes as more contagious variants are beginning to spread within the county and vaccination rates are plummeting.
“Even though much of the United States is operating similarly to how we were pre-pandemic, it is important to realize that we are still very much in the middle of a global pandemic,” Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan told supervisors on Tuesday. “While vaccination is readily available in the United States, not all Americans are choosing to or are eligible for vaccination.”
From a high of 51,569 doses administered the week of April 5, vaccinations have declined to 7,338 administered last week. Less than 10,000 doses of vaccine have been administered each week since the week of June 21 even though only 41.3 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.
Statewide 61.4 percent of people are fully vaccinated.
So far, 55 cases of the alpha variant have been identified in Kern County along with six cases of the delta variant. The Health Department is concerned about the spread of virus mutations within the county because estimates from the United Kingdom say the alpha variant is 43 percent to 90 percent more transmissible than the original COVID strain, while the delta variant is 35 percent to 60 percent more transmissible than the alpha variant.
Studies show vaccines remain effective against the variants; however, the variants are spreading quickly among the unvaccinated, Carrigan said.
“The longer people go without getting vaccinated the less likely vaccines will remain effective against future mutations of the virus,” she added.
Faced with rising case rates, other counties such as San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno have recommended residents once again wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Los Angeles County has required masking indoors.
No such discussion on instituting a masking requirement above that of the California Department of Public Health occurred in Kern on Tuesday. The state health department says unvaccinated people need to wear masks in indoor settings while unvaccinated people only need to wear masks in schools, on public transit, in health care settings, in correctional facilities and in homeless shelters.
“If our unvaccianted residents take personal responsibility to mask when indoors, COVID-19 transmission should be minimized,” Carrigan said.
Public Health Services reported a case rate of 2.5 new cases per day per 100,000 residents this week compared to 2.1 last week. The statewide rate is 5.4 new cases per 100,000.
The county’s test positivity rate was also reported higher than last week’s total. The health department said 2.5 percent of tests returned positive for COVID-19 compared to 1.9 percent last week. The statewide rate is 3.7 percent.
The county has also begun to see an increased number of children test positive for COVID-19. The increase began when shelter-in-place orders were rescinded, according to the Health Department. Children younger than 12 cannot take an approved vaccine. So far 13,804 children in Kern County have contracted COVID-19.