Orange County reported 431 new COVID-19 infections Friday due to the fast-spreading Delta variant — a steep rise from Thursday’s 304 new cases.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations also rose, from 149 Thursday to 156, with intensive care unit patients increasing from 39 to 44.
The county’s cumulative case count now stands at 260,720.
“We all just have to keep on top of our positivity rates because there has been some speculation that the Covid numbers are increasing and it’s mainly due to the folks not fully vaccinated,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett told City News Service. “We’re just keeping a watchful eye on things.”
Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service the 156 patients in the county’s hospitals does not represent a crisis, “but what is a crisis is we’re in another wave. And a lot of people still seem to think that Covid is dead and buried, so I’m very concerned about the trend.
“I’m less concerned about the levels, per se, but if your levy is six feet high, you’re not worried when the flood waters are at one foot, but if the rise is from one inch, you do cast a sideways glance at the trend.”
Nearly all of the hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, and but it is difficult to gauge how many so-called breakthrough infections are happening to fully vaccinated Californians, Noymer said.
He noted that in Contra Costa County, data shows about 1 in 10 cases are fully vaccinated people.
It is a mistake for public health professionals to say it is an epidemic of the unvaccinated, Noymer said.
“It’s an epidemic of everybody, but mostly caused by the unvaccinated,” Noymer said. “Everyone would be more protected, including the vaccinated, if more people would vaccinate.”
He added that Orange County residents need to be aware that “things are kind of moving in the wrong direction again on Covid. It’s never too late to get vaccinated and for people who thought they would wait it out and now don’t want to bother, they need to reassess that.”
For those who live with or work with someone with a weakened immune system or who is especially vulnerable to coronavirus, “It’s probably time to start thinking about masking at the grocery store again even if they’re vaccinated.”
Noymer said his opinion on students wearing masks indoors has shifted because of the fast-spreading Delta and Alpha variants fueling the county’s surge.
“I was a bit on the fence about it,” Noymer said of masking students in the fall. “But I think masks need to come back for definitely the under-12s. And it’s becoming clear that for the over-12 too. … The fact that I’ve changed my mind over the last two weeks is because of the trend over the last two weeks. The data has been changing profoundly under our feet.”
Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Doug Chaffee told City News Service on Thursday that the board will consider accepting a $4.5 million state grant to help with coronavirus vaccine outreach.
Access to vaccines is not an issue, Chaffee said, but outreach is still important as officials grapple with convincing the vaccine-resistant population to get inoculated.
“With the Delta variant hitting people not vaccinated, that’s where we need to go,” Chaffee said. “This is state money and we should take advantage of it.”
As of Thursday, the county reported that 1,876,853 residents were fully vaccinated. The number of residents who have received Pfizer or Moderna and are fully vaccinated is 1,754,729, and the number of those who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and are fully vaccinated is 122,124.
The county reported there were 214,245 who have received at least one dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Overall, Orange County is “doing better than our surrounding counties,” Chaffee said.
The state grant will help county officials provide administrative support for nonprofits and other community organizations to hold vaccination events.
“We want to be sure our nonprofit partners out in the community have sufficient funding to do their job,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee noted that the county government was doing about one-third of the vaccinations with healthcare providers doing the rest.
“We can’t just rely on people dropping by the drug store,” Chaffee said of the importance of continuing outreach. “It’s too serious. We have to do outreach and go through the barriers. I think we need to do that going forward with our recovery. We can’t take a step back and, like it or not, the only answer is getting a shot.”
County officials are not considering any sort of other measures like a mask mandate for indoor activity or shopping for everyone, including the vaccinated, Chaffee said.
According to the Orange County Health Care Agency, the most dominant variants in the county in recent weeks have been the Delta, Alpha and Gamma variants. Delta and Alpha are considered much more highly contagious. Experts say the vaccines all provide a high degree of protection against infections and will prevent serious illness and death.
According to the latest weekly averages released each Tuesday, Orange County’s case rate per 100,000 residents increased from 2.6 to 4.9 and the test positivity rate jumped up from 1.8% to 3.3%.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the disadvantaged communities hardest hit by the pandemic, increased from 1.9% to 3.4%.
The county had recently been reporting coronavirus statistics once a week, but switched Monday to a more frequent schedule of releasing numbers every weekday in light of the rapidly increasing number of infections.
There were no new fatalities logged on Friday. The cumulative death toll stands at 5,138.
The death toll for July is 2; June is 15; 22 for May; 43 for April; 198 for March; 611 for February; 1,563 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 967 for December, the next deadliest.