Why California Has One of the Lowest Covid-19 Rates in the Nation

Vaccinations surged as Delta took hold.


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Jose Espinoza receives a Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in Los Angeles last month.Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Here’s some good news to start your morning: California has less Covid-19 transmission than any state in the country.

That’s according to federal officials, who on Wednesday ranked the state’s current coronavirus case rate the lowest in the nation.

Sure, there are mask mandates and other measures to credit, but most deserving of thanks is the Golden State’s high level of vaccinations.

More than 82 percent of Californians aged 12 and older have at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Only nine states have more of their populations immunized.

The surge of the Delta variant has been a real-life experiment in the effectiveness of vaccines, one that appears to have helped Gov. Gavin Newsom survive a recall election on Tuesday. For the most part, places with high vaccination rates have been protected from the virus.

And in California, the Delta surge appears to have done something else as well: pushed vaccination rates even higher.

The number of people getting vaccinated here began to stall in June, but then spiked as the Delta variant took hold in late July. Ultimately, about 1.6 million Californians got a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in August, up from the 1.1 million who did so in July.

It’s difficult to tease out what exactly led to the rise in vaccinations. California has recently mandated vaccines for state employees, teachers and health care workers. There’s also been new evidence of the strong protections the vaccines offer, even against the Delta variant.

Some Californians may have been persuaded to seek out a shot after witnessing first-hand harm wrought by the virus. We’ve all heard stories of people hospitalized with Covid-19, struggling to breathe, and wishing they had gotten the vaccine.

Since early August, the biggest rise in vaccinations in California has been in the San Joaquin Valley, the Sacramento region and far Northern California — parts of the state that have recently been hardest hit by coronavirus cases.

Those regions had low vaccination rates to begin with, so they admittedly had more room to increase. But it’s likely that some people were also influenced by seeing overwhelmed hospitals in their communities.

“The question is: What gets you to make a different decision today than you’ve made the last few months?” said UCSF epidemiologist Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo. “I think fear is somewhat of a motivator, unfortunately.”

Bibbins-Domingo told me she thinks that social pressure, community outreach and availability of the shots also play a role in who gets vaccinated. The coming months will reveal which strategies work best as California health officials try to encourage holdouts to get immunized.

The Delta variant is too contagious to wipe out, even in communities with high vaccination rates, Bibbins-Domingo said. But the shots will remain an essential part of minimizing future surges.

“It all starts and ends with vaccination. It doesn’t mean once you cross some magical threshold, the virus magically disappears,” she told me. “How many people are vaccinated — it’s like how many barriers can you put up to withstand the onslaught.”

For more:

Los Angeles County officials said Wednesday that proof of vaccination will be required to enter indoor bars, clubs and other drinking establishments starting next month.

Contra Costa County announced earlier this week that customers would have to show vaccine cards at bars, restaurants and gyms. San Francisco already has a similar mandate in place.

The unvaccinated are 11 times more likely than the vaccinated to die from Covid-19.

Look up Covid-19 rates in your California county with our coronavirus tracker. Or explore global trends in coronavirus spread here.

Researchers are beginning yearlong studies to examine any possible connections between vaccination and irregular menstruation.

California counties with the lowest vaccination rates were most likely to vote to oust Newsom, finds an analysis from The Los Angeles Times.


Kevin Grellman administering a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to, from left, Jose Gomez, 80, and his wife, Armida, 81, in Pasadena, Calif., in August.Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

If you read one story, make it this

President Biden’s proposal to make booster shots available to adults was supposed to roll out next week. But amid a chorus of dissent inside and outside government, the plan’s future is up in the air.

Read the full story from my colleagues.


Smoke from the Dixie Fire rises over the horizon in July in the Plumas National Forest, which reopened under the new order.Credit…David Swanson/Reuters

The rest of the news

Parks reopen: All but five of California’s 20 national forests reopened late Wednesday after they were closed to all visitors for 15 days.

2022 election: The success of Newsom’s anti-Trump recall strategy may be a warning for Republicans ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

Larry Elder: Defeated in the recall, the talk radio host looks to a future in conservative politics.

Newsom’s future: The governor beat the recall, and now comes the hard part — governing California.

Cost of the recall: One estimate puts the cost of the recall at $450 million.

Payments to dead people: California’s state pension system hasn’t recovered $42 million in payments that were made to people who aren’t alive, according to a new audit reported on by The Sacramento Bee.

Stimulus checks: The second round of payments from the Golden Gate Stimulus will be released on Friday, according to SFGate.


Ride reboot: The latest Disneyland ride to undergo major renovation, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin is being rebooted to recenter Jessica Rabbit in the lead role, reports The Orange County Register.

Space launch: Hawthorne-based SpaceX launched the first all-civilian crew into space on Wednesday, NBC Los Angeles reports.

Retail theft ring: Four people were arrested on suspicion of stealing $2 million worth of retail products from dozens of outlets statewide as part of a theft ring in Orange County, according to The Associated Press.


West Fresno social services: Many West Fresno residents say social services have declined after being consolidated into a new facility in Clovis. About 100 people protested the changes on Wednesday, The Fresno Bee reports.


Opioid crisis: Opioid overdoses are up in Alameda County, posing another health challenge for unhoused people, The Oaklandside reports.

Air quality advisory: Air quality officials are warning of possible smoky air in the Bay Area through Thursday because of fires in Northern California, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.


Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

What we’re eating

Enjoy this cucumber salad with soy, ginger and garlic.


Tourists in Chinese Camp, Calif.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

A writer went searching for Asian American history in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Read more about a California Gold Rush town called Chinese Camp.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

Between the wildfires, pandemic and drought, this summer in California hasn’t been easy.

So with Sept. 22 marking the end of the season, I’m asking for you to share what has helped you make it through. Maybe it was a vacation you had postponed, a trashy TV show, a delicious meal you cooked or your nightly stroll.

Email me your favorite summer memory at CAtoday@nytimes.com along with your name and the city where you live. If you want to include a picture, please make sure it’s oriented horizontally.


A volunteer firefighter at a wildfire training course in Brewster, Wash., last May.Credit…David Ryder/Getty Images

And before you go, some good news

Fewer than five percent of career firefighters in the nation are women. This camp in Northern California is trying to change that.

In 2018, Alameda County fire captain Kimberly Larson started a nonprofit that hosts camps for high schoolers across the Bay Area to introduce women to nontraditional careers like firefighting, reports The San Francisco Examiner.

At this year’s camp, smaller than usual because of the pandemic, enthusiasm was at an all-time high.

“So many of them this time around said … ‘we’re going to be firefighters,'” San Francisco Fire Capt. Julie Mau told the newspaper. “Just very, very self-assured, very determined.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Website’s help page, for short (3 letters).

Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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