Orange County Urged to Remain Vigilant Against COVID Despite Vaccine Progress

December 18, 2020 Updated: January 7, 2021

News of the first COVID-19 vaccinations in Orange County, California, was offset by a record number of hospitalizations in the region and a call by officials for residents to keep their guards up.

The Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) reported Dec. 17 that there were 1,519 people hospitalized in the county—including 343 in intensive care units (ICU)—marking the highest level of COVID-19 related hospitalizations yet.

Health agencies are responding with mobile field hospitals, the temporary suspension of all ambulance diversions for hospitals participating in the 911 system, and a plea for residents to avoid holiday gatherings with outsiders.

On Dec. 16, Orange County’s first set of COVID-19 vaccinations were given to frontline health care workers. During an Orange County Business Council online panel discussion on Dec. 17, medical professions said that receiving the vaccine was not a free pass from adhering to safety guidelines.

“Even if you get vaccinated by one of these early vaccines, you need to take all the precautions that you normally would, because we don’t know yet whether or not you can still get the infection without the disease or whether or not you can transfer [COVID-19] without the disease,” Dr. Philip Robinson, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology for Hoag Hospital, said during the conference.

Dr. Harlan Levine, who represented the City of Hope at the conference, said COVID-19 responses and vaccine awareness were a matter of proper messaging.

“We cannot let our foot off the pedal. This is a prolonged home stretch where the baseline can get worse before the immunity kicks in. We need to continue all that social distancing so we can get back safely and sooner to normality,” Levine said.

“I think the big question is, ‘How long does the vaccine last for?’ The [conference] audience should understand that the immunity that comes from the vaccine may be different from natural immunity. We need to get the message out there that everyone should get the vaccine except for the rare exception—not that you’ve had an allergic reaction before, but specifically to the ingredients of these vaccines. We need to continue to social distance whether you get the vaccine or not.”

During the conference, OCHCA Director Dr. Clayton Chau, who is also the county health officer, urged the public to continue taking precautions.

“As we are approaching the holiday season please do not mix households. Celebrate with only people you live with under the same roof,” Chau said.

“It is going to be hard, but for just this winter holiday please skip all of that, because our health system cannot have more and more people ending up in the hospital because of COVID.”

OCHCA is deploying mobile field hospitals to local hospitals this week to support the health care system as it responds to a surge in COVID-19 patients.

A University of California–Irvine Medical Center spokesperson told The Epoch Times that a tent facility housing 50 beds would be deployed early next week.

Other hospitals in line to first receive the mobile field hospitals include Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton.

As a result from hospitals being overburdened, “almost all hospitals were going on diversion,” Dr. Carl Schultz, OCHCA’s emergency medical system director, said in a statement.

He said that during normal times, ambulances are sent somewhere else if a hospital does not have available resources—but transporting patients elsewhere during the pandemic, where adjusted ICU bed availability in the county was zero on Dec. 17, has proven problematic.

“If nothing was done, ambulances would soon run out of hospitals that could take their patients,” Schultz said. “Therefore, we temporarily suspended ambulance diversion. While this will place some additional stress on hospitals, it will spread this over the entire county and help to mitigate the escalating concern of finding hospital destinations for ambulances.

“To the best of our knowledge, this has never happened before.”

On Dec. 17, OCHCA reported 2,615 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 13 new fatalities, for a total of 113,783 cumulative cases and 1,731 deaths.