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“A moment of extreme caution”: California could register the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, experts say

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Kuldeep Singh
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Experts warn that relaxing prevention measures now, such as early reopening of businesses and schools, could rapidly increase the number of positives in the state. They fear that this spring break and more aggressive variants of the virus will complicate the situation.

California was the first state in the country to issue a stay-at-home order nearly a year ago to try to reduce cases of the new coronavirus. But experts believe that it is very difficult for them to be the first to get out of this crisis and warn that there could even be a fourth wave of infections.

“While we all desperately hope to avoid a fourth wave, it’s unlikely that a sufficiently large proportion of the population will be vaccinated to prevent one in the spring,” said Dr. George Rutherford, epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco, in an article that the institution published in January.

“Experience tells us that we’re likely to see an increase again by later March,” the expert warned, noting that vaccination days and other efforts could lose ground if a reopening of schools and businesses is hastily implemented.

Rutherford supported that prediction in a recent forum on that campus, in which he explained that about 67% of the American population needs to be immune to COVID-19, either through a vaccine or by contracting the virus, to achieve so-called herd immunity.

Currently, phase 1B of vaccination is applied, which includes older adults, teachers, emergency services personnel, as well as farmers. As of Tuesday, the state supplied 10.7 million doses, of which 2.6 million were injected in Los Angeles County and 1.1 million in San Diego.

National immunity until fall

At the moment, less than 40% of Californians are considered resistant to the virus for the reasons already mentioned, which is below the national average.

“Unfortunately, that means we are likely to rely on our current mitigation methods until late spring or early summer,” Rutherford said, referring to face masks and obeying social distancing.

According to experts, there are other factors that could increase infections in California, such as canceling the use of masks in public places, not applying vaccinations in more affected communities (such as Hispanics), and the arrival of more dangerous variants of covid-19.

Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, points out that if stronger strains arrive then the vaccination rate should be as high as 80% to have the problem relatively under control.

Reaching “pre-COVID “normal” with herd immunity on a national level may take until the fall,” says Chin-Hong, who believes that global resilience could be reached until the summer of 2022, in a UC San Francisco article that made predictions about the pandemic.

“If we don’t reach 70%, we’ll be stuck in limbo. There will be some reopening and continued mask-wearing. There may be a future where certain activities will be open only to people who’ve gotten the vaccine,” anticipated the professor.

“We have been here before”

Last week there was a 19% decrease in new cases statewide, but there were still about 4,300 daily positives. In Los Angeles the decline was quite slight, 2%, adding about 1,600 infections each day.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, warned Tuesday at a meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that positives would easily increase if residents relax prevention measures.

“We run the risk of spreading the pandemic if we do not continue to reduce transmission while increasing our vaccination numbers,” Ferrer said. “This is the month, I would say, the month of March, the first part of April, in which we have to be extraordinarily cautious,” she suggested.

“Because we have been here before. We have been here with reopens. We have been here with trips for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have seen what happens over the holidays if we are not very careful … We have to keep everyone alive now same so they can be vaccinated,” urged the official. “This would be a moment of extreme caution.”

Ferrer gave a report on the situation facing the county when it is about to change from purple to red. That would mean increasing the capacity of supermarkets to 50% and that of restaurants to 25%. It would happen as soon as this weekend.

An empty stadium for the dead

In her annual work report on Tuesday afternoon, Governor Gavin Newsom promised that the pandemic “will end soon”, although he did not dare to reveal what the prognosis is made by his public health cabinet. What he did warn is that when that happens “we will not return to normal.”

State leaders and school officials have been debating the return to face-to-face classes. In Los Angeles, after a harsh dialogue between directors of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the teachers union (UTLA), an agreement was reached that proposes to reopen schools to 600,000 students in mid-April. The plan is not yet defined.

The truth is that not all parents agree with sending their children to schools. They fear that children will bring the virus home, affecting those who are still waiting for the vaccine.

“Working together with parents, teachers, and school leaders, we have turned the conversation from whether to reopen, to when,” Newsom said.

The governor delivered his speech Tuesday at the 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The empty seats surrounding the official represented Californians who have lost their lives from complications related to the virus. Almost half of those unoccupied chairs symbolized the mourning of thousands of Hispanic families.

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