COVID youth cases dramatically rise, indoor masking recommended

Youth cases in 0- to 17-year-olds surpass cases among 18- to 25-year-olds, Tulare County Public Health issues recommendation for indoor masking for vaccinated residents, required for unvaccinated residents

VISALIA – While California might have a 70% vaccination rate of at least one dose, Tulare County is still in the trenches trying to fight off the pandemic.

Less than half of the county’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated at 49.2, leaving a lot to be desired. Another 8.4% have one dose. Countywide 40.2% of the county’s overall population is fully vaccinated, and another 6.9% have received one dose. Paired with the explosion of cases since the beginning of July, health and human services director, Tim Lutz has returned to center stage to give the board of supervisors COVID-19 briefings.

Despite an uptick in vaccinations in August, the number of vaccinated individuals is still way off from the numbers they saw in March and April when 102,800 and 86,200 people received the vaccine respectively. As a result, the number of cases has steadily risen with the COVID-19 delta variant, and so have hospitalizations.

The rate of hospitalizations per case with the delta variant is alarming. While the case rate per 100,000 people is less than half that of the winter surge where it peaked at 101.2, COVID-19 hospitalizations are about two-thirds what they were in January. At this point all hospitals have requested staffing, but that has been slow to trickle in. Lutz pointed to the natural disasters in Louisiana and other states in the south and east coast as a key reason why federal medical personnel have not been deployed en mass to the Valley.

“We are hoping to get some federal resources similar to what we did last year with Kaweah [Health] and the [Department of Defense] team stationed at the hospital,” Lutz said.

Lutz said to the board of supervisors last Tuesday, Sept. 14 that state public health labs are seeing almost exclusively delta variant strains of the COVID-19 virus. Other variants such as lambda or mu have not been detected in the county as of a week ago.

Cases per 100,000 residents in the county stand at 46.4 as of Thursday, Sept. 17. That rate is comparable to Jan. 30 of this year when cases were dropping rapidly following the winter surge. With more cases in the county now, and schools back at full capacity, 0- to 17-year-olds make one of the fastest growing age groups of county cases. They are now the third highest case rate when broken down by age, after pas- sing the 18- to 25-year-old age group weeks ago.

According to Lutz 0- to 4-year-olds make up 13% of cases in the youth age range, 5- to 11-year-olds make up 39% and 12- to 17-year-olds make up 48%. And the number of school cases over a rolling 30 days have been increasing steadily as well. Lutz said that as of Sept. 12 there have been 2,663 youth cases in the last 30 days which is a 15% increase over the previous 30 days.

Tulare County public health is beginning to encourage more precautions for COVID-19. Last week the Tulare County Public Health Officer, Dr. Karen Haught recommended that all residents wear face coverings indoors.

“I am extremely concerned with the continued increases in cases locally with the delta variant being more contagious and spreading rapidly in Tulare County. It is strongly recommended that all individuals wear a face covering or mask when indoors in public buildings or businesses and when outdoors in crowds. Masking and vaccines are the two best tools we have to prevent transmission and severe illness from COVID-19,” Dr. Haught said. “We strongly urge our residents and the public to mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Not to be left out, the recommendation also applies to vaccinated residents. However, masking is required for those who are not vaccinated.

“While vaccines remain the most effective against COVID-19, universal indoor masking is the least disruptive and most immediately impactful additional measure to curb the spread of the virus and reduce the demands being placed on our hospitals and the health care system,” stated a Tulare County Public Health press release.

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