Orange County's COVID-19 Surge Expected to Continue Into New Year

Orange County's COVID-19 Surge Expected to Continue Into New Year
A hospital worker walks equipment into an emergency triage tent set up outside of Kaiser Permanente's Orange County Medical Center in Irvine, Calif., on Dec. 11, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Orange County health officials say they expect an upswing of COVID-19 cases to continue into the New Year.

“We anticipate a continuing surge into January and are planning accordingly,” University of California–Irvine (UCI) Medical Center spokesman John Murray told The Epoch Times via email.

The region has seen a steady increase in COVID-19 cases throughout December, with both hospitalizations and positive case rates breaking records almost daily.

The Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) on Dec. 24 reported 3,490 new cases of the disease and one new fatality. The intensive care units (ICU) in Orange County’s hospitals remained at zero percent availability, according to the county's adjusted metric.

The county's COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 1,893, another record. Overall, the county has reported 138,310 total cases of the disease, along with 1,782 deaths.

Those tracking daily cases posted by the OCHCA will have to wait until Dec. 26 to review the next set of figures; since Dec. 25 is Christmas Day, no updates will be given.

However, the holidays won’t slow frontline workers as they continue to treat a surge of patients, including a pandemic-high 405 people in the ICU.

The UCI Medical Center in Orange is among three Orange County hospitals that set up mobile field hospitals to manage an increasing number of patients. The medical center’s field hospital, housed in a large tent inside the facility’s parking lot, is expected to include 50 beds and be operational by Dec. 29.

Murray said the field hospital will initially function to provide relief for the medical center's emergency department and inpatient units.

“Non-critical patients who are waiting for an inpatient bed or are about to be discharged may go to the tent, for example. This facility will not offer ICU-level care,” said Murray.

Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton are also scheduled to open mobile field hospitals in coming weeks.

Ongoing Eff0rts

Doctors are hoping recently approved COVID-19 vaccinations will bring an end to the pandemic.

The OCHCA reported Dec. 22 that the agency had been allocated 32,000 Moderna vaccines by the California Department of Public Health, and expected to receive them by the end of the week.

UCI Health has vaccinated approximately 4,500 health care workers through Dec. 23. Moderna vaccines were scheduled to be integrated into the vaccine rollout Dec. 24.

“We will continue offering healthcare workers vaccines through Sunday, with a day off for Christmas,” Murray stated. “[Our] goal is to offer vaccinations to the more than 10,000 personnel in the UCI Health system.”

Even with the good news of COVID-19 vaccinations beginning to take place for frontline health care workers, medical professionals 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 a recent conference hosted by the Orange County Business Council.

Other safety measures implemented by the county are 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.

Ten Southern California local health departments, including the OCHCA, released a letter Dec. 23, urging the public to take proper safety measures during the holiday, including wearing face masks, washing hands, social distancing, and traveling for essential trips only.

The county has also increased the availability and convenience of at-home testing. Test kits are available at no cost for individuals who live in Orange County and are asymptomatic or have exposure concerns.

According to Orange County CEO Frank Kim, 17,000 at-home kits were requested last week, compared to 19,000 people showing up in person at the county's testing super sites.