SANTA ANA, Calif.—Orange County’s latest weekly COVID-19 averages show a sharp increase in cases, largely due to the Delta variant, which has been characterized as a “game-changer” by one local expert.
According to numbers released July 27, Orange County’s average daily case rate per 100,000 residents increased from 4.9 to 8 in a one-week period, and the test positivity rate jumped from 3.3 to 4.9 percent.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the disadvantaged communities hardest hit by the pandemic, increased from 3.4 percent to 4.4 percent.
The positivity rate is more alarming as it reflects more people being infected rather than an increase in testing, said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and University of California–Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention.
“Delta is exploding everywhere,” Noymer told City News Service. “It’s become apparent Delta has become a big game-changer.”
Orange County reported 453 new cases of COVID-19 on July 27 along with another increase in hospitalizations.
The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals was 212, up from 194 on July 26, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. There were 48 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, unchanged from July 26.
The county had 27 percent of its ICU beds available as of July 27.
One additional coronavirus death was also reported. July 26’s figures brought the county’s cumulative total to 262,524 cases and 5,140 fatalities since the pandemic began.
The death toll for July is 2; 15 for June; 22 for May; 43 for April; 199 for March; 612 for February; 1,563 for January—the deadliest month of the pandemic—and 967 for December, the next deadliest.
Noymer expects fewer deaths during this surge because of high vaccination rates among seniors.
The Delta variant is a great deal more contagious and produces higher viral loads, but it is not clear how much more deadly it might be, Noymer said.
“It’s not clear to me that Delta is more deadly, but it is clear to me it’s more spreadable,” he said.
The rising level of breakthrough infections is concerning, Noymer said. The vaccines are effective at keeping most recipients from hospitalization or serious illness, but Noymer said he’s acquainted with two fully vaccinated people who were hospitalized for a COVID-19 infection.
“It’s not a crisis, but the direction of travel is backwards, and that is the issue,” he said.
As for the new Centers for Disease Control guidance that even vaccinated people should return to masking indoors, Noymer said he endorses that.
The most dominant variants in Orange County in recent weeks have been the Delta, Alpha, and Gamma variants, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. Delta and Alpha are considered much more highly contagious, with Delta now considered the most dominant strain statewide.
Experts say the current COVID vaccines all provide a high degree of protection against infections and that—while they won’t prevent all infections—they usually prevent serious illness and death.
As of July 22, the county reported that 1,876,853 residents were fully vaccinated. The number of residents who have received Pfizer or Moderna and are fully vaccinated is 1,754,729, and the number of those who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 122,124.
The county reported that there were 214,245 who have received at least one dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.