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15 patients battling COVID-19 in pediatric hospital, the ‘highest number ever,’ public health officials say

Orange County Health Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau stands behind a lector.
Orange County Health Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau provides the latest COVID-19 updates during a press conference on Tuesday.
(Screenshot by Priscella Vega)

As coronavirus cases continue to increase in Orange County, public health officials report there are 15 patients battling COVID-19 in a pediatric hospital, marking the “highest number ever” of sick children during this pandemic.

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon 14 of the children are in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

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

New data released Tuesday after a holiday weekend showed a growth in cases for the third consecutive week, highlighting the winter surge driven by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The agency reported 24,639 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the overall total to more than 455,000 cases since the pandemic began. Nearly 6,000 county residents have died from the disease since 2020 with 17 additional deaths logged Tuesday. The agency‘s latest update includes data from the three-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend.

“We predicted that the number [is] probably only small compared to last winter surge in 2021,” Chau said. “But nevertheless, the health system is really, really overtaxed.”

As a result, Chau said the amount of healthcare providers who are available to help has shrunk because they’re either tired or are infected because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Although the number of positive cases continue to increase, the amount of COVID-19 positive patients in O.C. hospitals declined slightly. Data show 1,197 people with COVID-19 — a decrease from last week’s number of 1,202. In a two-day span, patients in intensive care unit increased from 188 to 199.

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

The case rate per 100,000 increased from 224 to 235. The positivity rate also increased by a few percentage points, up from 25 to 27.9%. The daily case average saw the biggest jump out of the three, from 7,217 to 7,572.

With high demand for rapid antigen tests, the county is prioritizing allocation to the senior population, especially those living in skilled nursing or long-term care facilities. As of late, some of these tests have sold for triple their retail value.

“We are going on year three 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 the risk of catching the virus by getting vaccinated, boosted and wearing face masks. Those interested in getting tested should avoid visiting emergency rooms and hospitals to help alleviate their workload on other patients.

“I’m hopeful that nationwide and statewide, we are beginning to stabilize and drop off,” he 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.”

Before the news conference ended, O.C. Supervisor Chairman Doug Chaffee called on residents to get vaccinated to help alleviate healthcare workers’ stress and work together to make 2022 a “successful and prosperous year.”

“I hope that you would have consideration for those that are out there treating people,” Chaffee said. “Some people who have other medical needs may not get the care they need because the hospital is full with COVID patients.”

Throughout 2022, the county will hold news updates dubbed “The OC” regularly on Tuesdays to share the latest COVID-19 updates and information on the latest county programs. Updates will not be held on county holidays or if there’s breaking news.

To learn more about COVID-19 in O.C., visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/.

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