With each day the delta variant spreads, San Diego County lays out the hard truth -- COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise.
While not anywhere close to the amount of cases experienced by San Diegans at the pandemic’s peak, the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations reported in the county is still concerning – with health experts saying the trend is driven mostly by unvaccinated people, the quickly spreading Delta variant and lagging vaccination rates in some areas.
San Diego County reported more than 400 new cases Monday and Sunday, and 501 on Saturday -- a daily case level not seen since February. The county is not following Los Angeles County's lead in requiring masks to be worn indoors by everyone, including the vaccinated -- yet.
One area seeing a surge in cases is Pacific Beach, a popular area for younger people, a group that health officials are targeting as the CDC says roughly 42% of Americans ages 18-24 are fully vaccinated, well below the rates for older age groups.
As the delta variant quickly spreads nationwide, health officials are having a hard time convincing millions of younger Americans to roll up their sleeves.
“I think it’s upsetting and unfortunate that people in my generation would be withholding that,” said recent college graduate Emma Lee, a vaccinated minority in her age group. “There’s this kind of mentality that you’re a bit invincible, or, even if you do get it, you’ll walk away unscathed, but I think that’s selfish…. I would hope that this new variant would encourage them.”
Lee told NBC 7 it was never a question of if she’d get vaccinated, but when.
“I’ve been fully vaccinated for a few months now,” Lee said. “I wanted to enjoy the end of my spring semester with peace of mind…. it seems in America right now that COVID is behind us, but it’s not.”
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published last month found that one of the main reasons U.S. adults between the ages of 18-39 were not vaccinated was due to concerns about possible side-effects. A recent UC San Francisco study found that was a concern for more than half of unvaccinated respondents, but neither study specified what those concerns were.
Some younger unvaccinated people around Pacific Beach Tuesday told NBC 7 the rapid spread of the delta variant and vaccine travel requirements in some places have changed their minds about not getting the shot, but San Diego resident Michael Harding said he’s still not convinced.
“I chose not to get vaccinated," Harding said. "I just feel like there was a lot of skepticism. I know people that got the vaccination and still got sick, so to me there’s just no point right now…. I’m a pretty healthy guy, so I’m going to stick with my immune system and rely on that.”
Decision-making like that is worrying health experts as case numbers surge across the country.
Few young adults die of COVID-19, but the age group accounts for more than 20% of all COVID-19 cases so far.
Health experts say only a small fraction of younger Americans are adamantly opposed to vaccinations, pointing to some of the misinformation spread about the vaccine – but they say most worry about side-effects, opting to wait for full FDA approval before rolling up their sleeve, or are immunocompromised and can’t risk any potential complications caused by the shot.
The CDC says the benefits of the vaccine still far outweigh its risks -- even for young people.
California boasts one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, but it still has a long way to go. Only about half of its 40 million residents are fully vaccinated, and roughly 15% of the state’s population is ineligible for the vaccines because they are under 12 years old. That leaves 35% of the population who, for one reason or another, have not gotten the shots.
The University of California and California State University have joined dozens of other colleges nationwide in requiring vaccines for all students by the time they return for in-person classes in a few weeks.