The Maine Millennial: Of Course There%EF%BF%BD%EF%BF%BD%EF%BF%BDs A Vaccine Mandate For Health Care Workers


California, the U.S. coronavirus hot spot early this year, in recent weeks has recorded some of the lowest case rates in the country.

© Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

Coronavirus infections in San Francisco and other California cities are lower than in other states that are more vaccinated.

How did that happen? And why does it appear to have reversed positions with states that fared better through the winter surge?

One clear example is the New England states of Vermont and Maine. Relatively shielded from the worst of the nation’s previous surges, they have struggled against the delta variant, which has sent their case rates soaring.

The two states have higher vaccination rates than California’s, experts say — but lower natural immunity.

As horrific as the winter surge was, with hospitals overwhelmed and death rates hitting pandemic peaks, experts say California emerged from it with a relatively significant amount of natural immunity. And that, combined with vaccination levels that are above the national average, is now playing a major role in keeping case rates so low.

Experts stress that case rates are just one data point — and that a more telling metrics at this point in the pandemic are hospitalizations and death rates, which are low across the board in both California and New England due to the power of vaccines.

However, “There is a lot of naturally acquired immunity from last January,” said George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at UCSF. “Maybe it’s not the end-all be-all, but it sure as hell works for the short term.”

Comparing data: Maine, Vermont struggling

Adding to the success in California, Rutherford said, are relatively strict health policies, particularly in the Bay Area but also other more populated regions including Los Angeles County. Vaccine mandates and mask rules have proliferated in Bay Area counties and across the state, which is even the first in the nation to require schoolchildren to be vaccinated, when full federal approval is given for the shots.

All these factors are reflected in California’s coronavirus numbers: This week, state data — reflecting single-day daily averages, unlike the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s full-week averages — showed the average daily rate of new cases was 18 per 100,000 people, the second lowest rate in the nation behind Connecticut. The case rate for just the Bay Area was even lower at 10 per 100,000.

Like California, many New England states have also been known for their pandemic rigor. Five of New England’s six states have the highest vaccination rates in the country, with Vermont topping the list at 70% of its total population fully vaccinated. California’s rate is lower at 59%.

And yet in states like Maine and Vermont, which had long staved off the worst of the pandemic, the delta variant has latched onto unvaccinated pockets. Maine, with a vaccination rate just under Vermont’s at 69%, has been struggling the hardest in the region, breaking its single-day record in daily new cases last week. Its most recent case rate was 44 per 100,000 residents.

Maine and Vermont, like California, recommend universal indoor masking, and have instituted some COVID-19 vaccination requirements for state and health workers.

Video: Some Parts of California Still Lagging with Lower COVID Vaccination Rates (CBS SF Bay Area)

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