With COVID numbers improving, why are vaccine mandates getting stricter?

From hospitals to bars, public meetings and school yards, people are increasingly having to prove they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine if they want to participate in many routine activities of daily life.

Long Beach City College will vote next week on a hard vaccine mandate with no option to provide a negative COVID-19 test. Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated vaccines to eligible K-12 students when the vaccine is fully approved. Health workers are required to be inoculated or they could lose their jobs, and bar-goers throughout the county and Long Beach are now expected to show their vaccine card alongside their IDs if they want a drink.

Meanwhile, public meetings may once again go virtual after a recommendation from Long Beach Public Health Officer Dr. Anisa Davis.

Simultaneously Long Beach and the county’s case numbers and positivity rates for COVID-19 have been on a downward trajectory for the past several weeks. The city’s case rate per 100,000 residents is now 10 compared to nearly 37 in mid-August.

Health officials said despite the improved numbers, they want to prevent a potential second winter surge that could drive up hospitalizations, as well as an increase in deaths.

“We are in a good place,” Long Beach health department spokeswoman Jennifer Rice Epstein said. “We need to do everything we can to hold the line.”

The challenge health experts face with COVID-19 is the virus’ unpredictability, and with the Delta variant still spreading in some communities, that makes understanding where the trends will go much more difficult.

A timeline of trends in Long Beach-area hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Image Courtesy Long Beach Health and Human Services Department.

The city is currently seeing 10 new daily cases per every 100,000 residents and a 1.7% seven-day positivity rate.

This same time last year, just before the winter surge, the city was reporting 7 new cases per every 100,000 residents and a 3.3% positivity rate. Those numbers, along with daily deaths and hospitalizations, exploded in December and continued to grow through January and February, data showed—though, that was when no one was vaccinated.

The positivity rates and new cases per 100,000 residents did not begin to drop until March. Then in the spring, community-based nonprofits and health advocates began sweeping vaccination campaigns throughout the city.

Los Angeles County health officials echoed Long Beach’s worries and their reasons for increasing vaccine mandates. The county is currently reporting a 0.9% positivity rate and 9 daily new cases per 100,000 residents.

“Community transmission of COVID-19 in LA County remains substantial, which still poses a significant risk for those who are not fully vaccinated,” county health officials said in a statement. “Anywhere that large groups of people, many who may not [be] fully vaccinated, gather poses an increased risk of spread at this level of transmission.”

There is also concern about the colder months making it easier for influenza, the seasonal flu, and COVID-19 to spread at the same time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that seasonal flu trends are hard to follow because the viruses often mutate and change, though experts say social distancing last year could have reduced immunity against the flu, making a harsher flu season this winter possible.

“Transmission levels have fluctuated throughout the pandemic and were worse during the winter last year, when influenza-like illnesses typically spread more easily,” the county said.

There is also the Federal Drug Administration’s recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine, which made it simpler for some employers to add COVID-19 vaccines to standard employment requirements similar to other vaccine requirements.

Nearly 70% of Long Beach residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated. The county reported that about 60% of all residents were fully vaccinated.

“Vaccination still remains the best protective measure to get us out of this cycle of surges in infections, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19,” county health officials said.

City government meetings can return to virtual, hybrid settings

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