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Los Angeles County reported its largest daily increase in coronavirus cases in months Thursday with the virus disproportionately spreading among Black people as the highly contagious delta variant takes root in the region.

The 506 new infections Thursday is highest number reported in a day since mid-April. Meanwhile, the number of delta variant cases sequenced in county labs has doubled, reaching a total of 245 this week, or about 44% of all cases sequenced, L.A. County public health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

“Given that 4 million residents in L.A. County are not yet vaccinated, the risk of increased spread is very real,” she said.

This graph was released by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on July 1, 2021.
This graph was released by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on July 1, 2021.

Officials started seeing increases in the the delta variant in early April, when it accounted for around 5% of all cases sequenced.

Cases overall have been on an upward trend since early June, followed by a small uptick in hospitalizations over the past few weeks, Ferrer said.

Fears over the delta variant, which first emerged in India and has been increasing in prevalence nationwide, prompted L.A. County officials earlier this week to recommend everyone mask up in indoor public spaces.

Ferrer said the decision was made out of an abundance of caution as so much remains unknown about the new strain, which is considered more contagious and more deadly than others before it.  

“It looks like fully vaccinated people may in fact be getting infected with the delta variant at a higher rate than we’ve seen with other variants, so we should pay attention to that,” Ferrer said.

There have now been a total of 2,190 so-called breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people in L.A. County, an increase of 1,257 cases since officials first reported on such cases in late May. That means about 0.05% of all vaccinated people tested positive, Ferrer said.

Another 192 fully vaccinated people, or 0.004%, were hospitalized, and 20 people, 0.0004%, died of the illness — up from 71 and 12, respectively, in May.

Ferrer said the figures show vaccines “provide a lot of protection against dying from COVID-19.”

Overall, the county’s death rate has continued to hold steady with only a few fatalities reported per day, despite the increase in infections. Six additional deaths were reported Thursday.

“It is true that past increases in hospitalizations have always led, a few weeks later, to a proportionate increase in deaths,” Ferrer said. “However, given the very high vaccination rates amongst older residents and many of those who have underlying health conditions, we’re hopeful that the increases in cases and hospitalizations that we’re experiencing do not result in a corresponding rise in deaths.”

However, Ferrer noted the increases in cases and hospitalizations are primarily being felt in Black communities.

From mid-May to mid-June, case rates decreased slightly among Latino, Asian and white residents. But over the same period, the case rate increased among Black people, from 39 cases per 100,000 people to 46 cases per 100,000 people.

“We see a similar pattern when we look at hospitalization rates over the same monthlong period,” Ferrer said.

When it comes to vaccinations, only 44% of Black residents 16 and older are vaccinated, and 54% of Latinos in the same age group. That compares to 65% of white residents and 75% of Asian residents with at least one dose.

“The trends are very concerning given the proliferation of the delta variant. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are highest among Black and Latinx residents, while vaccination rates in these groups remain the lowest,” Ferrer said. “This does mean that people have the lowest levels of protection from this virus in the communities where transmission is already highest.”

The general population’s vaccination rate also continues to lag behind where public health officials would like to see it, Ferrer added.

Among county residents 16 and older, 68% have now received at least one dose of vaccine, and 59% are fully vaccinated.