San Luis Obispo County recently reported its first case of the COVID-19 Delta variant, which research shows spreads more easily and quickly than prior strains of the coronavirus.
The SLO County Public Health Department announced the first Delta case on June 29, as part of a weekly COVID-19 update that reported 34 new COVID-19 cases since last week, mostly in Paso Robles and Atascadero.
"The Delta variant has been spreading rapidly throughout the world and is quickly taking hold in California," SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said in a statement. "This is an unfortunate reminder that the pandemic is not over."
The county said it's investigating the case to determine how the individual contracted the variant and will take steps to prevent its spread. The Delta variant now accounts for about 1 in 4 infections in the U.S.
While the Delta variant is highly transmissible and can cause more severe illness, health experts assure that fully vaccinated individuals remain protected against it.
SLO County shared recent research from the Public Health England indicating that two doses of vaccine are more than 90 percent effective at preventing severe illness from the variant.
Those who are not vaccinated, however, are at serious risk. Boresntein urged residents who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated to get their vaccines now. About 63 percent of eligible SLO County residents have received at least one dose, which lags behind the state average.
"If you've been waiting, now is the time," Borenstein said. "Together we can protect our community and put this pandemic behind us for good."
Borenstein did not change the county's guidance on masks in response to the variant. Public health officials in Los Angeles County did just that on June 28, issuing an updated recommendation that asks members of the public to wear masks in indoor public spaces again, regardless of their vaccination status.
"At this time, SLO County Public Health is not issuing any additional recommendations regarding mask wearing beyond the current state and federal recommendations," said Michelle Shoresman, a spokesperson for SLO County Public Health. "We are, however, monitoring the local situation closely and will remain open to considering additional recommendations if local data indicates the need."
As of June 29, SLO County had seven residents hospitalized with COVID-19, with three in the ICU. While hospital numbers remain low for COVID-19, local ICU beds are currently in high demand. On June 29, SLO County reported just 29 percent available ICU capacity.
Health officials said that could be explained as a combination of a typically busier summer season and the fact that hospital operations have largely returned to "normal" post COVID-19.
"We haven't noticed a particular trend, but we are continuing to monitor availability," Shoresman said. "However, this does point out the potential for significant problems if we were to have another surge of serious COVID illness. ... That's why it remains very important for people to continue to get vaccinated and truly try to put an end to COVID." Δ