Delta variant’s spike sparking scores of workplace coronavirus outbreaks around LA County

Fueled by rapid spread of the Delta variant, at least 140 recent coronavirus outbreaks have struck workplaces in Los Angeles County — a 150% increase since the middle of July — officials said Wednesday, July 28. Meanwhile, public health leaders posted another 15 virus-related deaths and 2,454 new cases.

The outbreaks illustrate that the virus is still alive and spreading in the county as well as statewide. California leaders rekindled the state’s indoor-mask guidance Wednesday, echoing the county’s revived mandate of nearly two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the county’s positivity rate crept above 6% for the first time since February, climbing to 6.05%, officials said Wednesday.

Public Health Department officials stressed that in terms of outbreaks, the latest numbers were a far cry from the 1,130 investigations launched in the middle of February. But the numbers are nonetheless worrisome.

“With the highest case rates occurring among people ages 18 to 49 years old, who comprise much of our workforce, workplaces can easily contribute to the spread of the virus,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in announcing the latest tolls.

Unvaccinated people continue to bear the brunt of the disease, which, if caught at work, can be taken home to homes and other sites, where it can spread, Ferrer said.

Outbreaks are defined by the county as three or more infections at an individual work site.

Since the county revived its mask mandate earlier this month, requiring face coverings at indoor public settings, inspectors have been busy encouraging complianc  at hundreds of gyms, restaurants, bars, food markets, salons and barbershops, manufacturing hubs and retail malls.

Ferrer noted this week that overall compliance has been solid, but inspectors are nonetheless finding the most common rules broken are employers not providing face masks to their employees and not posting signage requiring customers to don face coverings.

The county’s rekindled mask mandate foreshadowed what has become a statewide and national push. California leaders on Wednesday issued fresh guidance on masks, recommending mask use indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

“The Delta variant has caused a sharp increase in hospitalizations and case rates across the state. We are recommending masking in indoor public places to slow the spread while we continue efforts to get more Californians vaccinated,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer.

The state’s action came after the Centers for Disease Control updated its guidance to recommend all teachers, staff and students in K-12 schools wear masks, regardless of whether they were vaccinated.

The federal guidance said children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall, but with “layered prevention strategies in place.” Those strategies include masking and more vaccinations to eligible people.

“There is consensus among all leading authorities—including the CDC, CDPH, and the American Academy of Pediatrics—that universal masking is the safest and surest approach to full in-person instruction,” according to the CDC.

But that consensus has not come without major pushback in a society polarized over masks and vaccinations.

“The arbitrary restrictions that have been implemented by progressive politicians throughout the pandemic have seldom been based on the science, and the recent resurgence of these measures is further proof,” said Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Saugus, in a statement reacting to the re-emerging measures. “It is time to stand up to government overreach, allow Americans to choose for themselves how best to protect their health and get our communities back to normal.”

But in L.A. County, many physicians and public health experts say masking and vaccinations remain the top tools they have to deal with a mutant strain of COVID-19 that threatens millions who have not gotten their shots.

In June, for instance, fully vaccinated people represented 20% of all the case diagnosed among L.A. County residents. And unvaccinated cases accounted for 80% of all cases, according to Public Health. From July 1 through July 16, there were 13,598 cases diagnosed in L.A County — 74% of all the cases were among the unvaccinated and the fully vaccinated represented 26%.

Hospitalizations and case rates have jumped over the last few weeks among unvaccinated people. In June, 92% of hospitalizations were of unvaccinated people, and 8% were of vaccinated people.

L.A. County hospitalizations increased by 27 to 918 on Wednesday, according to the state’s count.

The 15 new deaths brought the total in L.A. County to 24,658. The 2,454 new COVID-19 cases brought that total to 1,290,226 confirmed since the the pandemic began.

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