Orange County reports sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations: What to know
Orange County officials are expressing growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus amid a nationwide surge caused by the highly contagious Delta variant.
As of Tuesday, 495 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Orange County, the highest number in about six months and nearly five times the number from a month ago when 102 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals on July 10.
Still, the recent number is far below the peak of the winter surge, when 2,259 people were hospitalized in Orange County’s hospitals.
Over the last week, Orange County has reported an average of 685 new coronavirus cases per day, according to data compiled by The Times. That’s more than a four-fold increase since mid-July, though still well below the case counts the region was regularly seeing during the height of the fall-and-winter surge.
Health officials are again calling on residents to get vaccinated.
“Very few of us are going to get out [of the pandemic] without either getting COVID illness or getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Matthew Zahn, Orange County’s deputy health officer and a pediatric infectious disease expert. “And, clearly, getting vaccinated is the safer, healthier way for us to go.”
Added Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, Orange County’s deputy health officer: “We are hoping that this information is informing people to make the decision to really protect themselves and their loved ones and to mask up, especially in public areas indoors. And if you’re in crowded areas outdoors ... you should consider wearing a mask.”
The rate at which coronavirus tests are coming back positive has fallen in the last week in Los Angeles County but is expected to rise further in Orange County.
Where are the areas of concern?
Orange County’s test positivity rate is 8.3%, Chinsio-Kwong said. And in a sign of potential trouble, the positivity rate is rising in the neediest areas of the county and was 8.9% on Wednesday, up from 8.6% the day before.
Because the test positivity rate is rising in lower-income areas, “my concern is that we’re going to continue to see the adjusted case rate increase,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “Usually, when you have more positivity, there’s more spread of the illness to others in the community.
“We do expect and anticipate that positivity [rates] will continue to rise,” she said. “Really, everybody in our community ... every ZIP Code, needs to take precaution.”
The state has seen its total number of hospitalized coronavirus-positive patients swell from 2,981 on July 25 to 5,973 as of Sunday.
What about hospitals?
There continue to be increases in the amount of time ambulances are waiting to drop off patients at emergency departments, as well as the number of hospitals requesting that ambulances be diverted to neighboring emergency rooms because they’re already crowded, said Dr. Carl Schultz, medical director for the Orange County Emergency Medical Services Division.
The requests to divert ambulance patients from hospitals was equivalent to 25% of Orange County’s hospitals being closed over a 24-hour period, Schultz said.
Nine Orange County hospitals recently reported that it was taking more than an hour for many patients to be offloaded from ambulances to emergency rooms, Schultz said.
For now, however, the level of overcrowding means that people with minor injuries and illnesses must wait longer to receive care. But so far, Schultz said, Orange County’s hospitals are still able to provide critically ill people prompt attention.
Hospital crowding is still not as bad as it was last winter, Schultz said. And Orange County is not in a position in which officials are urging hospitals to cancel elective or scheduled surgeries, something that is either being done or urged by officials in harder-hit states such as Florida and Texas.
The issue with Orange County’s hospitals isn’t beds or space but medical staff, Schultz said. “By slightly reducing elective surgeries, it would perhaps free up some staff to be used elsewhere in the hospital,” he said.
Most hospitals in Orange County are functioning close to standard capacity, he said, noting: “Some of them are starting to open up tents to help offload some of the burden on emergency departments.”
The hospitals that are hardest-hit by crowding tend to be near the county’s borders. In general, the hospitals in southern Orange County can get crowded, as there’s a relative scarcity of hospitals in that area, and hospitals near the county border in northern Orange County are sometimes crowded with patients coming in from L.A. County.
About 90% of COVID-19 patients in Orange County’s hospitals are not vaccinated, Supervisor Katrina Foley said.
The Food and Drug Administration is set to amend clearances as soon as Thursday for vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer to allow extra doses for people with compromised immune systems.
Where does Orange County stand with vaccines?
64.2% of residents of all ages in Orange County have received at least one shot.
Still, improvements are especially needed in certain areas. In Orange County, “San Clemente, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Newport [Beach] all need to work on their vaccination rates,” Chinsio-Kwong said.
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