The delta variant is dominating in Long Beach; is a lockdown coming or is this wave different?

With the highly contagious delta variant surging in Long Beach, local health officials say their eyes are squarely set on the rising number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients to evaluate whether they should mandate stricter infection-control measures.

“The pandemic and our fight to stop it is becoming more difficult by the day,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said at a news conference last week.

The city would consider another lockdown “if we start to see real increases in the hospitalizations,” Long Beach Health and Human Services Department Director Kelly Colopy said alongside Garcia Wednesday.

For the moment, “we don’t anticipate additional closures but the possibility of additional restrictions,” Long Beach spokesman Ed Kamlan said in an email Monday. “There are not clear-cut metrics for when these would come into play given the ever-changing impacts of the delta variant and other future variants.”

So, with the new, highly contagious version of the coronavirus running rampant, where does Long Beach stand?

Health officials have been sounding the alarm about the delta variant for months now, but the volume increased significantly last week when the CDC set off screaming headlines warning this mutation of the coronavirus likely causes more severe illness than past variants and can spread as easily as chickenpox.

“The war has changed,” the CDC wrote in internal documents obtained by the Washington Post, which cited research suggesting even vaccinated people could more easily spread the delta variant.

Locally, the message is much the same. The delta variant, “is now everywhere,” Colopy said at the news conference Wednesday. It is the dominant variant in the city, region and state, she said.

And with delta being 50% to 70% more transmissible than previous strains, Long Beach’s case rate has skyrocketed 12-fold recently, according to Colopy.

The case rate on Friday was 24.7, the highest it’s been since the middle of February when schools were still delaying their reopening plans and the local economy was largely shuttered.

What’s different now that allows most of society to continue as normal? In a word: vaccines.

“We are seeing an increase in our hospitalizations, but not anywhere near where they were in the height of the pandemic,” Colopy said.

As of Friday, there were 80 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, according to Long Beach Health Department data. That’s a significant increase from early June when the number hovered around 10, but it’s magnitudes lower than the peak of almost 600 local hospitalizations in January, almost 150 in July 2020 and around 200 in mid-February.

A screenshot from the city of Long Beach’s data dashboard showing hospitalizations for the coronavirus.

Much like other parts of the country, Long Beach has also seen some vaccinated people testing positive for the virus, but those cases are few and far between, according to Colopy.

“The percentage of people who’ve been vaccinated and become positive remains very low. Right now, of those who have become positive after a vaccine, it’s only a 10th of a percent, so still very low numbers,” she said.

Even if an inoculated person does test positive for the virus, they are still extremely well-protected against severe symptoms or death. That’s why, even with case rates surging, hospitalizations have—so far at least—not followed the same trajectory.

Colopy also pointed out that seniors—one of the populations most vulnerable to serious cases of COVID-19—are 99% vaccinated in Long Beach.

It’s not clear how full hospitals would need to get before city officials consider more public health measures beyond the current mask mandate for everyone indoors.

For now, local hospitals were just 37.6% full, and local intensive care units were at 34.3% capacity, according to city data.

“At this point, hospitalizations are up but have been fairly stable over the past week,” according to Kamlan, the city spokesman.

The vast majority of COVID patients in local hospitals are unvaccinated, according to Colopy. Currently, the hospitalization rate for vaccinated residents is 1.7 per 100,000 and 8.1 per 100,000 for the unvaccinated, Kamlan said.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the chance that any variant, including the delta variant, can get a foothold in our community,” Colopy said.

Overall, 69.5% of eligible Long Beach residents have been vaccinated. Health officials have been making an extra push encouraging kids from 12 to 17 to get vaccinated before school starts in the fall. Only 45.3% of locals in that age group have been vaccinated, city data shows.

“Within the community, young people are the ones that still need to get vaccinated the most,” Mayor Garcia said last week.

Information on how to get vaccinated is available here.

What are Long Beach’s new masking rules? And when might they end?

Editor’s note: This story was updated with more recent data and a statement provided by the city of Long Beach on Monday afternoon.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.