Why Covid Took Off in California, Again

Wednesday: Not enough Californians are vaccinated to stop the spread of the Delta variant. Plus, how to stay safe from infection.,

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ImageNurses in the I.C.U. at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica with Alejandro Balderas, a 44-year-old patient who later died.
Nurses in the I.C.U. at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica with Alejandro Balderas, a 44-year-old patient who later died.Credit…Isadora Kosofsky for The New York Times

Between reinstated mask mandates and spiking coronavirus case numbers, this summer is starting to feel a little too much like 2020.

Even in California, a state with a vaccination rate well above average, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s map of coronavirus spread shows California bathed in orange and red, signaling the highest levels of transmission.

So how did we get here?

Well, what’s happening in California is a story playing out across the country. Summer ushered in more socializing and fewer restrictions, just as the extremely contagious Delta variant gained a foothold.

Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine, employed a very California analogy to explain it to me: “Delta is a lightning strike and loosening restrictions is the wind” — and they have joined forces to create a threat like a dangerous wildfire.

Although 53 percent of California residents are fully vaccinated, better than most states, it has not been enough to prevent Delta from spreading. Even in San Francisco, which at 70 percent has one of the best vaccination levels among big cities, new coronavirus cases have increased 141 percent over the past two weeks.

“The Delta variant isn’t hyperbole. It isn’t public health people wringing their hands,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told me. “It’s a game-changer.”

The Delta variant is so contagious that it has caused cases to spike like never before, Bibbins-Domingo said. Its proliferation also means that achieving herd immunity — the threshold of vaccinations and previous infections needed to halt a virus’s spread — would most likely require vaccinations of at least 95 percent of people, she said.

But that doesn’t mean vaccinations aren’t helping now. People who already have received shots are far less likely to end up in a hospital if they contract the coronavirus. Nationwide, 97 percent of people hospitalized with Covid-19 are unvaccinated, according to the C.D.C.

So even as Delta spreads in California, the number of hospitalizations and deaths will be much lower than previous surges because more than 21 million Californians are vaccinated, said Dr. Timothy Brewer, an infectious-disease expert at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The good news is: The vaccines are working,” Brewer said.

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Indoor dining at Swingers in Los Angeles, where masks are again required while waiting for food.Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

My colleague Tara Parker-Pope published a guide for navigating socializing and mask-wearing in this confusing phase of the pandemic. If you’re wondering whether you can still hang out with your vaccinated friends indoors or if it’s safe to travel, this is for you.

I also asked the experts I interviewed how they have adjusted their behavior as coronavirus cases began to rise again in California. To my surprise, they all told me that since they’re vaccinated, they haven’t made major changes.

Indoor public spaces where people don’t wear masks remain the most dangerous locations, they said. So Noymer began wearing a mask at the grocery store again and Bibbins-Domingo said she was thinking twice before eating inside restaurants, which she had been more comfortable doing earlier in the summer.

She and Brewer both said they have out-of-state travel plans that they don’t currently feel compelled to cancel.

For more

  • Americans were promised that the pandemic would recede into the past and be replaced by a summer of joy. Instead, it has been a summer of confusion.

  • Is Los Angeles next? New York will be the first city in the nation to require that people who want to eat indoors or watch a movie in a theater show proof of vaccination.

  • When will this ever end?” asked an I.C.U. nurse at a Santa Monica hospital, where numbers of Covid-19 patients are growing yet again.

Nearly every line in this piece about repatriated Iraqi artifacts is a surprise.

The tale involves 17,000 looted antiquities from ancient Mesopotamia and also the evangelical Christian family that owns the craft store chain Hobby Lobby. I’ll let you find out the rest.


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Merle Canfield assembling yard signs against the Sept. 14 recall election involving Gov. Gavin Newsom.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

California

  • Recall election: Democratic leaders are concerned by the apathy of their party’s voters regarding the governor’s recall election. Polling shows that Republicans appear more eager to vote.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Covid spreading: While Marin County has a high vaccination rate, Covid-19 cases are currently surging in Marin City, where the vaccination rate is much lower. The San Francisco Chronicle explores the community’s vaccine hesitancy.

  • McClatchy estate: Built in the 1930s, the McClatchy estate in Sacramento is for sale for the first time, for $2.5 million. The dining room features a mural depicting parts of state history, according to The Sacramento Bee.

  • Deadly lightning: A hiker was killed by lightning on Friday in a remote area near the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada. Fatalities from lightning strikes are rare, with only 14 reported deaths in California from 1950 until April, writes The Associated Press.

  • Housing crises: The San Francisco Chronicle examines an urban exodus of Bay Area residents to small towns bordering wildlands, which are more likely to be directly affected by wildfires.

  • Indoor dining: Soleil Ho, a restaurant critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, writes about her “anticlimactic” experiences with providing proof of vaccination to eat indoors.


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Summer pasta with zucchini, ricotta and basil.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

This lemony pasta with zucchini tastes like summer.


We’re soliciting travel tips to share in upcoming editions of the newsletter. Tell us about the best hidden gems to visit in California. Email us at CAtoday@nytimes.com with your suggestions.


When a barn built in 1867 was threatened by the Dixie fire, eight men fought to save it. The barn, on Keefer Ranch in Plumas County, is believed to be the oldest still standing in the state.

Like much of California, the region has been hit hard by devastating wildfires in recent years. “We need to win one,” one of the valiant men told The Chico Enterprise-Record.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Team track event (5 letters).

Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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