The COVID-19 pandemic claimed its youngest victim in Riverside County, a 4-year-old child with no underlying health issues, officials confirmed last week.

According to the Riverside University Health System, the unidentified child died during the first week of August, but it was not reported as a COVID fatality until the cause of death was verified. No other information about the child, including a city of residence, was released.

“Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the family, friends and others who are impacted by the death of this child,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung said in a statement. “This tragedy reminds us that this virus does not discriminate between the young and old. The death of this child strengthens our commitment to halt this pandemic before the loss of another young life.”

A total of eight COVID deaths were announced by RUHS officials on Friday, giving the county a total of 4,727 since the pandemic began in March 2020. The fatalities are considered trailing indicators during the pandemic because of delays in processing death certificates, meaning the deaths could date back weeks, according to health officials.

There were 641 coronavirus patients in county hospitals as of Sunday, with 131 in intensive care, according to state figures. Those numbers are down from 660 and 137 on Friday.

Another 1,083 cases were reported, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 332,499.

The number of known active virus cases countywide Friday was 7,879, up 49 from Thursday. Verified patient recoveries countywide are 319,893. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 331,416 — according to the county Executive Office. Verified patient recoveries countywide are 318,867.

County officials do not update their coronavirus numbers on weekends.

Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that 17% of the county’s COVID infections in July were among fully vaccinated people, while to date in August, 15.4% of COVID patients were fully vaccinated.

Saruwatari said hospitalization data has been consistent, with roughly 10% of patients being fully vaccinated, and 90% unvaccinated.

Altogether, the county had tabulated 3,361 cases of fully vaccinated people this year requiring post-vaccination treatment for the virus, according to Saruwatari. She added that 23 virus-related deaths have been documented among the vaccinated.

Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said the new infection data underscored the growing conundrum of “breakthrough cases” in which fully vaccinated individuals are facing COVID exposure risks as if they had never received the shots.

“As time goes by, this virus is mutating into different variants,” Hewitt said, pointing to the Delta variant as an example.

The supervisor questioned what he considered a rush by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to license Pfizer’s SARS-CoV-2 shot, announced Monday, after six months of clinical trials under the emergency use authorization granted last fall.

“The FDA has a history of approving drugs, and then three, four or five years later, they’re recalled (over safety issues),” he said.

Federal and local health officials have repeatedly stressed that being vaccinated does not provide 100% protection against being infected, but vaccinated people are far less likely to be hospitalized or die than their unvaccinated counterparts.

Hewitt wondered aloud about the justification of promoting the vaccine for those who have already endured a bout of coronavirus, claiming that those who have been exposed have “built up some natural immunity.”

Leung acknowledged natural immunity can mitigate exposure risks, but said the duration of viral resistance is probably just half of what the shots provide.

The doctor said the county is already establishing plans for widespread availability of COVID booster shots.

Federal health officials recommended earlier this month that all vaccinated Americans get a booster eight months after they become fully vaccinated. That amounts to a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — and “likely” an additional dose for people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot. The booster shots could begin the week of Sept. 20.

Information on vaccination is available at rivcoph.org/coronavirus.

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