Orange County’s weekly COVID-19 averages released Tuesday remained much the same as last week as the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus showed another decline.
According to weekly state data released every Tuesday, the county’s average daily new case rate per 100,000 residents ticked up from 0.8 last week to 0.9, while the overall test positivity rate ticked up from 0.6% to 0.7%.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, dipped down from 0.8% to 0.7%. That would have kept the county safely in the least-restrictive yellow tier, but that system ended with the state’s reopening on June 15.
The county’s weekly average of tests per 100,000 residents ticked up from 195.4 last week to 198.6.
Hospitalizations dipped from 54 on Monday to 51 on Tuesday, while the number of patients in intensive care dropped from 14 to eight.
Three dozen newly confirmed infections brought the county’s cumulative caseload to 255,958.
The health department also logged two more fatalities, one that happened in May and the other in April.
The death toll is four in June; 22 in May; 42 in April; 198 in March; 608 in February; 1,554 in January, the deadliest month of the pandemic; and 966 in December, the next deadliest.
As has been common at the Orange County Board of Supervisors meetings over the past several month, dozens of public speakers implored the board to suspend its local state of emergency due to the pandemic. The supervisors do not want to do that because it would jeopardize reimbursements from the state and federal governments for COVID-19 expenses.
County officials also assured residents that lifting the local state of emergency would do nothing to change any remaining restrictions, most of which were suspended on June 15.
“Even if we were to cancel this emergency order, it would not do anything to change anyone’s lives,” board Chairman Andrew Do said. “We would just be shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of state funding.”
Do moved to have the county’s state of emergency continue until the state lifts its own state of emergency, and the board unanimously agreed. That action was taken to end the local state of emergency as soon as it can be practically done while leaving the county eligible for state and federal reimbursements.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said that about 1.87 million Orange County residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, “which translates to 63.3% of those eligible” to receive an inoculation. The county has 1.62 million fully vaccinated residents, Chau said.
Officials are concerned about the so-called Delta variant, which originated in India, Chau said, noting that it was upgraded from a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern” in the state.
The Delta variant “is gaining ground in the United States,” with “14% of all new cases” stemming from that mutation, Chau said.
Officials are predicting the Delta variant “will be the predominant case variant in the United States” within days, he said.
Last week, the state reported about 400 cases of COVID-19 with the Delta variant, which is more contagious, Chau said, noting that Orange County has “a few cases” so far.
“The concern is that within a matter of a week, it has risen by 40% in the state,” Chau said. “The numbers are low still, but, nevertheless, the increase is concerning.”
A Pfizer study showed that its vaccine provides at least 80% protection against infection from the Delta variant when recipients receive both doses, Chau said.
Booster shots may be offered by Pfizer and Moderna this winter, but that has not yet been determined, Chau said. But anyone who received Pfizer can get a Moderna booster shot and vice versa, Chau noted.
Supervisor Katrina Foley quizzed Chau and Orange County CEO Frank Kim about why changes were made in a county memo issued last week on the latest rules regarding face coverings and quarantining that diverge from state guidelines.
For instance, the state requires that businesses and public institutions assign an employee at an entrance of a shop or building to receive “self attestation” of vaccination before entering for anyone not wearing a mask, but the county’s memo did not specify that.
Kim said there was no “elegant solution” to the issue since he did not have employees trained to enforce mask mandates for the unvaccinated.
“The difficulty is today I’m in an awkward position of having mask police at the door,” Kim said.
Foley was also concerned that the attestation county employees are signing regarding their vaccination status does not include the vow “under penalty of perjury.” She said she was concerned that some people will lie about their vaccination status to avoid wearing a face covering.
Chau said businesses and governments have three options: post someone at an entrance to a facility to receive self-attestations of vaccination status, require the unvaccinated to wear a mask, or if they are unwilling, to check then make sure everyone wears a mask indoors.
Do said the new state guidelines on mask wearing shifted enforcement from local law enforcement to businesses and local governments because it includes a Cal-OSHA policy governing employees.
“The new policy places the responsibility of enforcement on the business,” Do said. “And the guidance went even further than that. It includes state and local governments. So then the responsibility and punishment for lack of enforcement falls in the business and that’s us.”
Do said no matter what county officials think of the policy, they are required to follow it.
“Even if I disagree with a policy, I will never advocate or tolerate open defiance of our state law,” Do said. “If we start picking and choosing what laws we follow, what is the point of the system, and this nation is moving down that path and I for one will not participate in that… We are stronger because there is a democratic process… We can always run for office, advocate for a different platform and if we win we can change the law, but we don’t pick and choose what we will and will not follow.”
Supervisor Don Wagner ripped the state for what he called its “inconsistent” and “haphazard” rules and guidelines for COVID-19.
“The state has failed throughout the pandemic to bring a coherence to its rules,” Wagner said. “They are haphazard in writing them, inconsistent in drafting them and inconsistent and haphazard in enforcement.”