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O.C. pediatric hospital treating ‘highest number ever’ of child COVID patients

Children's Hospital of Orange County.
(Kevin Chang / Times Community News)

As coronavirus cases continue to increase, public health officials report there are 15 patients battling COVID-19 at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, the “highest number ever” of children being treated there during the pandemic.

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said during a news conference Tuesday that 14 of the children are in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

Earlier this month, the county reported that a third child under 5 had died in December from COVID-19 complications. No vaccine has been authorized for children in that age group.

New data released Tuesday from the three-day Martin Luther King Day weekend showed an increase in cases in Orange County for the third consecutive week, highlighting the winter surge driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The rise in reported cases is the fastest accumulation of infections in the history of the pandemic.

The agency reported 24,639 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the overall total to more than 455,000 since the pandemic began. Nearly 6,000 Orange County residents have died from the disease since 2020, with 17 additional deaths logged Tuesday.

While the numbers are small compared with the 2021 winter surge,” Chau said, “the health system is really, really overtaxed,”
with fewer staff available to help because they’re either exhausted or infected.

Although case counts continue to increase, the number of coronavirus-positive patients in Orange County hospitals declined slightly. Data show 1,197 people hospitalized with COVID-19, a decrease from last week’s 1,202. In a two-day span, patients in intensive care units increased from 188 to 199.

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“We’re sitting on pins and needles and praying that our ICU capacity” is enough, Chau said.

The coronavirus case rate increased, from 224 per 100,000 residents to 235 per 100,000. The test positivity rate also increased, from 25% to 27.9%. The daily new case average saw the biggest jump, from 7,217 to 7,572.

While California continues to see disturbing rises in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, there are some early signs the Omicron wave is slowing.

With demand high for rapid antigen tests, the county is prioritizing allocation to its senior population, especially those living in skilled nursing or long-term care facilities. Scarcity of the tests has driven prices to triple their retail value at some outlets.

“We are going on Year 3, and we do know that our seniors are the most fragile population,” Chau said. “They live in a facility and we don’t allow them to see the family. [It’s] not good for the mental health.”

Looking back at January 2021 data, Chau said he hopes the county is beginning to stabilize, as it did then. He emphasized the importance of taking all preventive measures to reduce risks, including getting vaccinated and boosted and wearing face masks. Those looking to get tested should avoid emergency rooms and hospitals to allow staff to care for other patients.

“I’m hopeful, that nationwide and statewide, we are beginning to stabilize and drop off,” Chau said. “And if we have any indication from the experience of other countries around the world, once Omicron drops off, it drops off really rapidly, so that’s good news.”


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