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San Diego County won't recommend masks indoors due to COVID-19 delta variant

California orders watch list counties to close indoor operations amid surge in COVID-19 cases
Posted at 1:58 PM, Jun 29, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Despite Los Angeles County public health officials advising everyone, fully vaccinated or not, to wear face coverings indoors due to the delta variant of COVID-19, San Diego County will not be doing the same.

County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said San Diego County will continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated people can safely go without masks indoors.

"We continue to monitor the situation with COVID-19 and in particular the delta variant and want to emphasize the single best action you can take to protect yourself and your family is to be fully vaccinated. Almost 95 percent of our delta variant cases are from those not fully vaccinated. We will continue to align our public health guidance with CDC and CDPH and do not anticipate any changes," Fletcher said in a statement.

Studies show the mRNA vaccines remain highly effective against the delta variant. A study in the U.K. found the Pfizer vaccine was 96 percent effective against hospitalization from delta and 88 percent effective at preventing symptoms.

However, the slight drop in overall effectiveness of the vaccine combined with the variant's rapid spread has intensified concerns about the risk of transmission to unvaccinated people. Last week, the World Health Organization urged the continued use of masks by everyone, regardless of vaccine status.

"It really is not so much about protecting the people who are vaccinated, but it's about keeping the spread low within the community so it doesn't get to people who are not vaccinated and to people that the vaccine didn't work for," said UC San Diego virologist Dr. Davey Smith.

Outbreak investigations in Singapore show vaccinated people can spread the virus. After a few cases at a mall in Australia, health officials there said they believe as little as five to 10 seconds of exposure is enough to cause an infection from delta.

RELATED: Masks recommended indoors in Los Angeles County as COVID delta variant spreads

Monday, Los Angeles County public health officials broke from the CDC and "strongly" urged everyone to wear masks indoors at public places — like grocery or retail stores, theaters, family entertainment centers and workplaces — because of the variant's rapid spread.

"Until we better understand how and to who the `delta variant is spreading, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimum interruption to routine as all businesses operate without other restrictions like physical distancing and capacity limits," according to a statement from the agency.

LA County said delta comprised nearly half of the cases sequenced in the week ending June 12.

The delta variant of COVID-19 was first detected in India. It is blamed for the rapid spread in that country and outbreaks in dozens of others, including the United Kingdom. U.S. public health officials estimate that 20 percent of all new COVID infections are now due to the delta variant, which is up from 10 percent a week ago.

The delta variant is believed to be about twice as contagious as the original version of the virus and it may be capable of causing more severe illness, said UC San Francisco infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.

"Certainly studies in the U.K., Scotland and India suggest increased probability of hospitalization, but it's still unclear whether or not that means more serious disease," he said.

In California, delta is the third most common variant, behind alpha and gamma, which were first detected in the U.K. and Brazil respectively. But experts say it's on track to take over as the dominant variant soon.

Still, the most recent data available suggests delta makes up only a small fraction of the cases in San Diego County. As of June 23, there were just 16 confirmed cases of the delta variant in the county that led to one hospitalization and zero deaths.

There were 2,163 cases of alpha or B.1.1.7, 1,371 cases of the epsilon variants previously nicknamed the California variants, and 349 cases of gamma or P.1. The county releases updated sequencing metrics on variants every Wednesday.