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As ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ surges, valley health official urges new restrictions

As spikes in coronavirus are expanding around the country and numbers are starting to rise here in California, a valley health official with the Desert Healthcare District is warning that new restrictions may soon be necessary to prevent further shutdowns.

Retired physician Les Zendle said the recent rise in Covid-19 transmission is caused by the "perfect storm" of unvaccinated people mixed with places reopening.

Throw in the highly contagious Delta variant, and he said even those who are vaccinated are left at risk. "This clearly is a pandemic of the unvaccinated but it doesn’t only affect the unvaccinated," Zendle said.

"They’re not getting very sick and they’re mostly recovering very well, but it is a concern," he said.

Zendle, who serves on the Desert Healthcare District board, said more needs to be done to get unvaccinated people to take a shot.

"Some of them are misinformed about the seriousness of Covid, even though over 600,000 people died and our economy ground to a halt," Zendle said.

He said the Coachella Valley has the highest vaccination rate in Riverside County, and said businesses and large indoor venues should start requiring proof of vaccination. He said masks must be enforced for those who haven't gotten a shot.

The McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert announced it would require all audiences to be fully vaccinated, and would give refunds to those who can't comply.

"It's not only to protect people, it's really to protect the economy," Zendle said. "We know what happened twice now when we were slow, when we didn’t really take things seriously."

He also said healthcare workers should be required to be vaccinated, a step Desert Oasis Healthcare told News Channel 3 last week it would be taking.

"The healthcare workers were at the brunt of Covid-19," he said. "They’re the ones that saw the devastation; you would think that they are the ones that would want to see everybody vaccinated."

Zendle said given the rise in cases and hospitalizations, we are heading into another crisis. He urges that steps be taken now, before it's too late. "My worry is that a few weeks from now...the ER and the hospitals and the ICUs are going to be crowded again," he said.

LA County last week began requiring people to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Riverside County officials have said they will not yet take that step.

Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.


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