SANTA ANA—Forty more COVID-19 patients have been admitted to Orange County’s hospitals, according to the latest figures—heightening concerns the summer surge fueled by the Delta variant has not yet crested.
Meanwhile, reports suggest the Biden administration is poised to recommend booster shots for most vaccinated Americans eight months after they became fully vaccinated—a process that reportedly would begin in mid-to-late September. Other particulars of the plan were reportedly still being developed.
The news comes amid concerns in Orange County about rising COVID numbers.
“Today’s numbers dashed our hopes that maybe we have found the peak of the summer wave,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said after the county updated its data on Aug. 16.
“We begin another week with a substantial increase” in COVID-19 patients, Noymer told City News Service. “You can’t have increasing hospital numbers without me being concerned.”
Hospitalizations increased from 498 on Aug. 13 to 538 on Aug. 16, with the number of intensive care unit patients from 120 to 124. The Orange County Health Care Agency releases updates on COVID-19 figures Mondays through Fridays.
The county has 19.9 percent of its ICU beds available, and 71 percent of its ventilators. Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief public health officer and director of the OC HCA, told reporters during a briefing Monday that the overall testing positivity rate was 8.1 percent, and 8.4 percent for the lower health equity quartile, which measures the impact of the pandemic in disadvantaged communities. He said the case rate per 100,000 residents was at 19.3. Those numbers are about where they were a week ago in the weekly averages.
“For me, I consider that stabilization, which is good,” Chau said.
Noymer was more skeptical.
“Case numbers are really squirrelly to interpret right now,” Noymer said. “Hospital numbers are what I’m looking at and I know people are sick of me saying that.”
The county recorded 2,117 new infections for Aug. 13-15, raising the cumulative to 275,964. The county also reported 30,278 tests, raising the cumulative to 4,496,519.
Two more fatalities were logged—one from Aug. 2 and the other from July 24. The cumulative death toll is 5,158.
Chau said he was preparing a new health order aligning with the state’s Aug. 5 order requiring vaccination for healthcare providers. The new county health order will expand on the state’s mandate, extending it to emergency medical technicians, home healthcare providers, paramedics and dental office employees, Chau said. Los Angeles County also included those categories of workers in its vaccine mandate.
Chau said 75.6 percent of all eligible vaccine recipients in the county have received at least one shot. Factoring in the entire population, including children younger than 12 who cannot get a shot yet, about 65 percent are fully vaccinated, Chau said.
Chau warned against relying on natural immunity from a previous infection because reinfection is possible.
“Even if you got COVID, you should get vaccinated,” Chau said.
During a briefing on Aug. 16, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley welcomed Charles Barfield, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, the county’s largest union, and Sarah Auwarter, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers.
Barfield criticized the county’s “self-attestation” process of asking county employees to volunteer whether they have been vaccinated.
Barfield preferred that employees show proof of vaccination.
Barfield said there has been an “alarming increase” in outbreaks among some employees in the county’s offices serving the public. He advocated enforcing mask usage for the public and employees indoors on county property.
Auwarter said she wished state officials would enforce mask usage for students and educators indoors and outdoors.