a hospital patient in a hospital bed.
An example of a hospital patient, not one in the story. Photo from Pixabay.

Orange County officials reported 1,213 new coronavirus infections Wednesday, nearly double the number logged Tuesday, and said 19 more COVID patients have been admitted to county hospitals as the Delta variant-fueled surge raged on.

Hospitalizations increased from 549 on Tuesday to 568, with the number of intensive care unit patients dipping from 126 to 125. Experts say hospitalizations are a more important metric than case numbers because any surge can be exacerbated by an overburdened health care system, and case numbers are expected to rise as schools and businesses require more people to get tested.

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, deputy health officer for the Orange County Health Care Agency, cautioned against reading too much into the infection rate on a call with reporters sponsored by Supervisor Katrina Foley, who has been providing daily updates on the Delta surge.

“Unfortunately today it’s high,” Chinsio-Kwong said of the infections logged Wednesday.

When Foley asked her if contact tracing indicates where the infections are concentrated, Chinsio-Kwong said, “It’s pretty much all over the place.”

She added, “We see ebbs and flows. We have to wait and see if it’s really a pattern or if it’s just the database ebb and flow … It takes weeks to see a trend. That’s what we see on a national level.”

Meanwhile, as expected, federal health officials Wednesday recommended that all vaccinated Americans who received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines get third shots eight months after they become fully vaccinated with the two-dose program. Officials said it is likely a second dose of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines may also be warranted.

“Pretty much what they’re saying is hold off on J&J because that guidance will be coming in the very near future,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

Officials are working on updating their online appointment systems such as the state’s MyTurn app and Orange County’s Othena to accommodate extra shots, Chinsio-Kwong added. There will be no return to large-scale vaccination centers as it is expected that local pharmacies, primary care physicians and mobile vaccine pods can handle the demand, she said.

Dispensing of those extra shots could begin the week of Sept. 20, according to a joint statement Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services.

The CDC and HHS said data “make very clear” that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination.

“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout,” the agencies said. “For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”

Four more COVID-related fatalities were logged Wednesday, but three were in January and one happened on Dec. 23. The county’s cumulative death toll is 5,165. Fatalities have decreased because of the high vaccination rates of seniors who are most vulnerable to the virus, experts said.

There were 12 infected people in Orange County’s jails as of Wednesday, down from 14 on Tuesday, but officials say they are all newly booked inmates.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the OCHCA, said Tuesday that he thinks “we’re pretty stable now” with infection rates.

“I am confident to say that we’re probably reaching a peak now, a plateau,” Chau said. “But we’re keeping an eye on the hospitalizations.”

The county has 21.7% of its ICU beds available, and 69% of its ventilators.

The county reported 11,213 tests Wednesday, raising the cumulative total to 4,522,326.

According to weekly averages released on Tuesdays, the county’s average daily case rate per 100,000 residents increased from 19 last week to 20.2, while the test positivity rate ticked down from 8.3% to 8.1%.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the impact on disadvantaged communities, slipped from 8.5% to 8.4%.

Of those eligible to get a shot, 75.4% of Orange County residents have received at least one dose, up from 73% last week, Chau said. Of the eligible residents, 67% are fully vaccinated now, up from 65% last week.

The county is also seeing an increase in interest for a third shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that have already been authorized for immunocompromised people, Chau said. That population includes organ transplant recipients and individuals undergoing therapies that suppress their immune system.

Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director of the UCI Health Family Health Centers, told CNS Tuesday that he was alarmed by the rising number of pregnant mothers getting infected.

He noted that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology is strongly recommending vaccines for expectant mothers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also reported the vaccines are effective and do not increase the risk of miscarriage, Mayorga said.

“Women who are pregnant and going through delivery have a five times greater risk of ending up the intensive care unit during childbirth” if they are infected with COVID-19, Mayorga said.

According to another recent study that UCI scientists were involved in, there has been a 40% increase in miscarriages for COVID-19 infected moms, Mayorga said.

“Forty percent is pretty significant,” he said. “When I read that article, I was taken aback.”

Also Wednesday, Santa Ana City Manager Kristine Ridge announced that she will require city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Santa Ana has the highest case rate in Orange County, and more than 800 Santa Ana residents have died from this disease,” Ridge said. “With case numbers rising again, almost entirely among the unvaccinated, it’s essential that we as a city lead the way and do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our employees and in our community.”

Employees who are unable to get vaccinated for health or religious reasons will be provided reasonable accommodations.

The city manager will discuss the policy change with employee labor groups before it goes into effect.

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