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Orange County health officials say to ensure a happy New Year in 2022, just stay home

Dark skies roll in Wednesday as the Christmas snowflake lights turn on at the Huntington Beach Pier.
Dark skies roll in Wednesday as the Christmas snowflake lights turn on at the Huntington Beach Pier. Health experts are advising people to stay home this New Year’s Eve as Orange County sees an uptick in coronavirus infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

As New Year’s Eve night approaches, Orange County health experts are urging residents to cancel holiday gatherings and hunker down at home, because hospitalizations and coronavirus infections — particularly among children and young adults — are once more on the rise.

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health officer, said Thursday new infections and hospitalizations have increased significantly since last week and could get worse as people travel, attend get-togethers and prepare to return to school in January.

The average seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 people jumped from 10.8 last Thursday to 22.8 this week, causing the county’s positivity rate to increase from 3.3% to 6.5%. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations also increased, from 217 last week to 420, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported Thursday.

Three college friends from Colorado brave the rain Thursday as they walk along the boardwalk in Newport Beach.
Three college friends from Colorado brave the rain Thursday as they walk along the boardwalk in Newport Beach. Still undecided on New Year’s plans, they weren’t concerned about COVID-19. But health experts beg to differ.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We know that New Year’s Eve is approaching,” Chinsio-Kwong said in a news conference. “We know many people are eager to celebrate. But the risk of catching and spreading COVID is extremely high during this time. We want to encourage everyone to limit or avoid gatherings if at all possible.”

She further advised all eligible residents to get vaccinated or to get a booster shot against the virus, as about 87% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Health care workers have recently begun to report a rise in new infections among children and younger adults, as the Omicron variant spreads throughout Orange County. Figures indicate of 29 Omicron cases confirmed countywide, 21 were among people ages 18 to 24. And more young children are getting sick this time around.

Jim Freeman and daughter Emma run in the cold wind just before the rain begins to fall on Wednesday at the Newport Pier.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Our pediatric hospital is showing there was an increase in pediatric cases that have been admitted. They’re now seeing younger children with respiratory illness,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “The age range that’s really driving the new infections remains young adults, ages 18 to 44.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday revised its guidelines on isolation and quarantine, indicating those with coronavirus isolate for five days and then, if symptoms do not worsen, wear a mask for five more days.

The change comes as the Orange County Health Care Agency on Thursday reported 3,402 new daily infections and two additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the countywide fatality rate to 5,890.

Of the 420 individuals being treated in area hospitals for the virus, 86 are in intensive care units, leaving less than 22% of all Orange County’s ICU beds available for new patients.

Chinsio-Kwong said Thursday hospitals have been experiencing longer than usual wait times as emergency rooms crowded with coronavirus cases begin to see seasonal cases of cold, flu and other respiratory illnesses. Meanwhile, about 10% to 15% of the county’s health care workers are calling out sick or to isolate or quarantine.

“It’s not that there’s not enough beds,” Chinsio-Kwong warned. “We might also be coming into a shortage of staffing, and this is being experienced nationwide. People really need to be careful.”

OCHA is offering free COVID-19 PCR test kits to those who live or work in Orange County, which can be administered in one’s home and then returned by mail with results available about 24 to 48 hours from the time they’re received.

Chinsio-Kwong encouraged residents to take advantage of the self-collection testing option, particularly if they are symptomatic, may have been exposed to the virus or are planning to travel or return to work or school. Free kits can be ordered online at ochealthinfo.com/covidtest.

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