By Elizabeth Sanchez, South Kern Sol

Kern County Public Health officials confirmed Tuesday that 99.4 percent of Kern’s COVID-19 cases since January are among residents who are unvaccinated.

As of Jan. 21, 2021, there have been a total of 17,197 COVID-19 cases in Kern. Of these case, just 104 were cases in residents who were fully vaccinated. Furthermore, of the 1,382 COVID-19 related hospitalizations since Jan. 21, only 11 of those hospitalizations were residents who were fully vaccinated, Kern County Public Health Director Brynn Carrigan told the Board of Supervisors.

“Most of the transmission we are seeing in Kern County is amongst unvaccinated individuals,” she said.

Because of this data, Kern Public Health is urging unvaccinated people to continue to wear masks indoors.

“If unvaccinated residents take personal responsibility to mask when indoors, COVID-19 transmission should be minimized,” Carrigan said.

Health officials told the Board they have been seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in Kern County. On Monday, health officials confirmed another 207 cases of COVID-19 in Kern, bringing the total to 111,894 cases.

Kern’s adjusted case rate and testing positivity rate have also both gone up since last week, and Kern is beginning to see an increase in variant activity that is more easily transmissible.

As of Tuesday, Kern Public Health reported 55 cases of the Alpha variant, 3 cases of the Beta variant, 6 cases of the Delta variant and 1 case of the Gamma variant. All of these variants are variants of concern, according to the CDC. Not all testing detects variants, making it likely there is additional variant activity in Kern, according to Carrigan.

“Currently, studies are showing the immune response from the vaccine is still effective against variants; however, variants are spreading quickly amongst unvaccinated people,” Carrigan said. “The longer people go without getting vaccinated, the less likely vaccines will remain effective against future mutations of the virus.”

As of Monday, 41.3 percent of Kern’s eligible population — those 12 and older — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kern has also seen an uptick in cases among children in Kern County. More than 13,800 children in Kern have contracted the virus. Carrigan credits the uptick in cases in children to the state lifting the stay-at-home orders.

“Now that all restrictions have opened up and kids are out and about in the community, they have higher chances of being exposed from unvaccinated individuals who aren’t masking,” said Carrigan.

Although it is less common for children to become severely ill from COVID-19, it is not impossible. When children become severely ill from the virus, they typically end up in the hospital for long periods of time and often have inflammation in different parts of the body, such as the heart and brain.

“It is extremely important we do everything we can to protect our children who are not eligible for vaccination in order to protect them,” Carrigan said. “Masking up is the most effective means to do so.”

Carrigan said the CDC anticipates a vaccinate for children younger than 12 to come out in the Fall.

Carrigan told the board: “It’s important to realize we are still very much in the middle of a global pandemic.”