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California is Reopening, But at What Risk?

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This is the big day. As dawn broke Tuesday, California officially reopened…and poof, physical distancing, capacity restrictions and color-coded tier charts we’ve become begrudgingly used to just disappeared. As of now, state law no longer requires vaccinated people to wear masks in indoor public settings. 

But not everyone is stoked.

As reflected in responses to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s peppy morning message, a lot of Californians still plan to sport the face mask and some people are downright terrified of going to work or being out in public. While there is certainly cause to celebrate progress in the fight against this deadly virus, it’s important that we acknowledge risks that still exist…and they do still exist.

It’s true that California has done pretty remarkable work on the vaccine front. Despite the slow start, the state has managed to fully vaccinate a little more than 55 percent of the population aged 12 and older — nearly another 11 percent are in the partially vaccinated range. 

Equally impressive are vaccination rates throughout the Bay Area, which have met or exceeded the state levels in most counties — in comparison, Solano County is falling significantly behind. Marin County notably celebrated a Monday milestone with zero COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time since May 2020.  

Here’s how the Bay Area is faring with vaccine administration:

  • Alameda County: 64.6 percent fully; 78.7 percent at least one dose
  • Contra Costa County: 69.4 percent fully; 76.7 percent at least one dose
  • Marin County: 80 percent fully; 89.2 percent at least one dose
  • Napa County: 62 percent fully, 73 percent at least one dose
  • San Francisco: 70 percent fully, 80 percent at least one dose
  • San Mateo County: 72.2 percent fully, 84.3 percent at least one dose
  • Santa Clara County: 69.9 percent fully, 79.2 percent at least one dose
  • Solano County: 51 percent fully, 64 percent at least one dose
  • Sonoma County: 64 percent fully, 73 percent at least one dose

Without Solano County factored in, the average rate of full vaccination is just above 70 percent around the Bay Area, but that average drops down to 68 percent when Solano County is accounted for. That difference may not seem like much of a big deal, however, it illustrates the variance in our own backyard and across the state, nation and globe. 

Herd immunity at 80 percent or more is the ideal, and we’re quickly approaching that level here locally. But in a state like California, where people often travel between counties and tourists flock from out of state and country, herd immunity means jack all if visitors are coming in from areas still plagued by high case and low vaccination rates. 

Let’s just look at the data coming from our southern neighbors in Kern County, where at least one case of the highly concerning Delta variant has been detected. The county’s COVID-19 data dashboard still looks like child’s play 15 months into the pandemic and they notably omit vaccination data. According to independent tracking with data pulled from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 38 percent of Kern County residents have received at least one dose and less than 32 percent have been fully vaccinated. 

U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rate map as of Tuesday, June 15, 2021. The dark blue indicates highest vaccination rates, whereas green areas reflect lower rates. (Graphic courtesy of the CDC)

The vaccination rates are also relatively low in close-proximity states like Arizona and Nevada, where travel to California is common and easy. In Arizona, only 39.9 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated — Nevada is barely better with 41.4 percent. Of the total U.S. population aged 12 and older, 51.4 percent is fully vaccinated and just over 61 percent have received at least one dose, according to the CDC.

The Debbie downer reality check is that while things are rosy here in the Bay Area, and in other left-leaning California pockets, much of the state and nation is still running around without any immunity. Vaccines give us some solid protection against infection, or severe illness and death if breakthroughs occur, but they are not foolproof. Some people, especially those who work in customer-facing industries fear that unvaccinated people will not honor the honor system and mask up indoors, increasing the small risk substantially without protective health orders.

Another imminent concern is the Delta variant first discovered in India, believed to be more transmissible and to cause more severe disease than what we’ve dealt with so far. A study out of Scotland found that Delta doubles the risk of hospitalization compared to the Alpha variant we saw come out of the U.K. With about 10 percent of U.S. cases tied to the Delta variant, the CDC announced Tuesday that the mutation is now a “variant of concern,” upgraded from the previous “variant of interest” designation.

Anti-mask sign in shop window. (Photo courtesy of Cold, Indrid)

It’s understandable that Californians would celebrate Tuesday’s reopening and gravitate toward each other without capacity limits and masks. There are enticing events popping up in parks and stadiums up and down the Golden State to commemorate the big day. But, we can do a lot more harm than good if we ignore risks still present and drop all protective measures. 

This thing is not quite over and, if we push it, we can backslide into pandemic territory no one wants to live through again. So, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated, please do, and maybe keep wearing that mask around crowds. It’s the least we can do for each other. 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.