Avoiding a fourth COVID wave in California depends on speed of vaccination effort, says UC Berkeley doctor

Moviegoers are pictured at an AMC theatre on reopening day during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Burbank, California, U.S., March 15, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LA County is planning to lift more restrictions on businesses and fully enter orange tier status next Monday, April 5.

That timetable is a little slower than what’s allowed by the state, which declared LA and Orange County qualified for the less restrictive orange tier as soon as Wednesday, March 31.

County health officials say the delay is to allow for the region to spend a full three weeks in the more restrictive red tier. Barbara Ferrer, who heads the county Public Health Department, said she was “a little puzzled” about the state’s quicker timetable.

The change coming Monday means all kinds of indoor businesses that are already operating can increase capacity. And it means a big change for bars. Drinking establishments that do not serve meals will be allowed to open outdoors with what Ferrer called “sensible” modifications including limited hours. Last call will end at 10 p.m. Outdoor tables must be eight feet apart. And there’s no live entertainment, though TVs are allowed.

Outdoor live entertainment and sporting events are allowed, and after April 5, the capacity for those venues like Dodger Stadium moves to 33%.

Orange County meanwhile is hewing to the state’s guidance and expects to loosen restrictions tomorrow.

When it comes to vaccinations, around 30% of Californians have gotten at least one shot so far. That number is about to dramatically expand as the state opens up vaccination eligibility to people ages 50 and older on April 1, and then all adults on April 15. 

Will California be able to avoid the fourth wave of coronavirus cases seen nationwide? CDC director Rochelle Walensky says COVID-19 cases overall are up about 10% nationwide compared to last week, and big increases are happening in Michigan, New York and New Jersey.

Dodging a fourth wave might depend on the speed of vaccination efforts in Southern California, according to Dr. Lee Riley, professor and chair of the Division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. 

“We should not be relaxing the restrictions, because this is exactly what we did last summer and look what happened,” Riley says. “This is going to be a race between how quickly we can vaccinate as many people as we can, versus how quickly these variants are spreading.” 

He points out that despite early hiccups in vaccine distribution in California, the state should be able to pull off a widespread vaccination effort once appointments open up to a larger demographic. 

Riley estimates that by early May, the process should be streamlined, and by July the state might be able to achieve herd immunity. 

Credits

Guest:

  • Dr. Lee Riley - professor and chair of the Division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology at UC Berkeley School of Public Health