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With virus surging, LA County implores people to get shots

July 23, 2021 GMT
Adrian Luna, owner of the Taqueria El Sol buffet in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, stands in the buffet area of his restaurant in Los Angeles, Thursday, July 22, 2021. Luna requires all his customers to wear face masks. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
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Adrian Luna, owner of the Taqueria El Sol buffet in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, stands in the buffet area of his restaurant in Los Angeles, Thursday, July 22, 2021. Luna requires all his customers to wear face masks. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
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Adrian Luna, owner of the Taqueria El Sol buffet in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, stands in the buffet area of his restaurant in Los Angeles, Thursday, July 22, 2021. Luna requires all his customers to wear face masks. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The top health official in Los Angeles County on Thursday implored residents to get vaccinated as the LA area sees a coronavirus surge similar to last summer’s, while authorities in three San Francisco Bay Area counties urged employers to enforce mask-wearing for any workers who haven’t received shots.

Los Angeles County reported 2,767 new COVID-19 cases, up 80% from last week and about a 20-fold jump from a month ago. It’s a trend seen across much of California, with increases in infections led by the highly transmissible delta variant that has proliferated since the state fully reopened the economy last month. The vast majority of new cases are among unvaccinated people.

“Given that about 4 million residents in LA County are not yet vaccinated, the risk of increased spread of this variant within our county, obviously, remains high,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

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About a mile from the health department, crowds were sparse Thursday at a county-run vaccination site in LA’s Eugene A. Obregon Park. Volunteers outnumbered those arriving to get shots, including friends Sofia Alvarez and Saray Rangel, who brought their daughters.

Both families had the virus last year — and each mother still has lingering effects, like loss of taste and shortness of breath.

Alvarez and Rangel already had received their shots. Rangel’s daughters — 13-year-old Jaslyn Minchaca and 15-year-old Melanie — got their first doses, while Alvarez’s kids — 13-year-old Sarah Villicana and 12-year-old Valeria — got their second shot.

The girls said they were worried about being around unvaccinated people and are still wearing masks.

Rangel said she was initially worried about how the vaccine could affect her kids, but with the delta variant proliferating, she decided to make their appointments.

“You hear so many things, you don’t know what to think or what to do,” she said.

At UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, there were fewer than 10 COVID-19 patients on any given day during June, the hospital said Thursday. This week, it’s ranged from 18 to 25 patients daily, and officials expect that number to keep rising.

“We’re all thinking that another surge is likely,” said Christian Sandrock, the facility’s director of critical care. “It is frightening. I don’t think we’ll go back to the worst we’ve seen, due to the vaccine, but it’s hard to tell.”

The surge in Los Angeles County resembles one last summer, Ferrer said. The difference, she said, is that now there’s the built-in protection of vaccines. Nearly 70% of county residents 12 and older have gotten at least one shot, according to health department data.

Add to that the return this month of the county’s mask mandate, and officials hope there will be a reversal in the latest spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

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Ferrer said there would have to be “extraordinary circumstances” for the county to again shut down businesses that have been reopening since the state did away with capacity limits and social distancing on June 15.

Meanwhile, health officers in three San Francisco Bay Area counties on Thursday “strongly urged” employers to require their workers to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible and reminded businesses of state requirements to enforce mask-wearing for any employees who are not fully vaccinated.

The health officers in Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties also urged employers to require documentation of employees’ vaccination status instead of allowing them to self-report.

“I would strongly encourage employers to go beyond the requirements” from workplace regulators, said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County’s health officer. He noted that the surge is driven by 20- to 50-year-olds at prime working age.

Farnitano stopped short of saying employers could fire people who refused to comply but said “employers have an obligation to provide safe workplaces for their employees.”

Neighboring San Mateo County announced that it would require masks for anyone in a county building starting Monday.

The Bay Area has seen some of the highest vaccination rates in the state. Several of its seven counties have at least 80% of residents 12 and older vaccinated with at least one dose.

The San Francisco Bar Alliance, which represents 500 businesses, said this week that it’s considering asking customers to show proof of vaccination. In Los Angeles, a growing number of bars and restaurants are requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival.

Adrian Luna, owner of the Taqueria El Sol buffet in LA’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, hasn’t gone that far yet, but he requires all customers to wear masks.

Luna said in Spanish that he’s asked most of his regulars if they are vaccinated — and many are.

Vaccinated himself, Luna said he wishes everyone would get their shots. He’s nervous about the delta variant but says he can only protect himself, his family and his business so much. With residents returning to Dodgers games and concerts, he’s at a loss for how his restaurant can do anything more.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.