Orange County Monday reported just 80 new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations of patients remained stable.
The cumulative case count rose to 253,574. No new fatalities were logged, so the death toll remained at 4,933.
The number of COVID-19 patients in county hospitals inched up from 113 on Sunday to 115 on Monday, while the number of intensive care unit patients dropped from 25 to 23.
“The numbers are continuing to look good, but it’s getting to the point where I’m wondering why we can’t get these down below 100,” Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service. “Basically the numbers are looking good, but not perfect, I guess you could say.”
He said reports of some Pfizer or Moderna vaccine recipients eschewing second shots is “concerning,” but it so far does not represent a threat to reaching herd immunity.
“Herd immunity, per se, isn’t what I’d say we need to worry about,” Noymer said. “But it could affect the emergence of variants. It’s not something I would completely ignore.”
The concern some vaccine recipients have is that they might experience “more severe” side effects with the second shot than they do the first, Noymer said.
“The most durable immunity comes from using the vaccines as they were designed by getting two doses, so I really rather have a dim view of designing your own vaccination program,” Noymer said. “I think people should get both doses.”
The surge of coronavirus in India has Noymer worried, as well.
“The real big worry is the Indian variant takes over in the U.S. or becomes widespread and the chances of that are anybody’s guess,” Noymer said. “The U.K. variant has taken off in the U.S. The Brazilian variant has been detected in numbers, but I would say it has taken off. The South African variant, not so much. But the Indian variant we’ll have to wait and see what happens. It’s definitely worrisome. As long as there’s COVID anywhere, you have to worry everywhere. That includes New Zealand and Australia.”
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Friday he would recommend to the Orange County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting that it is time for him to relinquish his authority to sign emergency contracts without board approval.
“There’s really no reason to have delegated authority anymore and I’ve asked the board to terminate that,” Kim said. “It’s a stable operation now and the contracts we needed have been implemented.”
Kim said it was an “awesome responsibility to spend taxpayer funds, but there should be public view of those types of transactions.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do agreed with Kim, saying Friday that it was no longer necessary to have the chief executive handle coronavirus contracts with the same speed needed last year.
The emergency power was necessary so the county could be as “nimble” as required “with the situation that changed almost on a daily basis,” Do said. “If we have to wait two weeks for every board meeting or call special meetings every week, we’d never get things done. But now we know the flow. Now we know the staffing we need and things are falling into a system, a pattern that we can anticipate.”
In another sign of a return to normalcy, the county will shut down its vaccine distribution site at Disneyland on Friday, the same day that the amusement park is set to reopen.
“In many ways it’s a positive sign,” Do said. “Disneyland is getting back to business. It’s a good sign for the economy and the well-being of our economy.”
The appointments at Disneyland will be moved to the Anaheim Convention Center. Kim said the county can still provide vaccinations for the disabled at the Orange County Fairgrounds and Soka University.
Providence, the national nonprofit healthcare provider, partnered with Edwards Lifesciences, an Orange County-based medical technology company, and the cities of Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Tustin to open two mass vaccination clinics within the past week.
One opened last Wednesday at the Edwards Lifesciences offices at 3009 Daimler St. in Santa Ana, and the other at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine opened on Monday as a drive-thru clinic.
Noymer believes it’s time to shift from mass vaccination sites to dispensing shots through pharmaceutical chains.
“We don’t need mass vaccination sites. We just need Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS,” he said last week.
Coronavirus daily case rates continue to decline, but not enough for Orange County to move into the least-restrictive yellow tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
According to numbers released last Tuesday, the county’s weekly averages for adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents improved from 3 last Tuesday to 2.8. The overall positivity rate improved from 1.6% to 1.4%.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 1.8% to 1.7%. The county’s positivity rates qualify for the least-restrictive yellow tier of the state system, but the case counts are still in the orange tier.
A graduation into the yellow tier requires that the case rate must get below 2 per 100,000 population.
The state will provide another update on the weekly averages Tuesday.
Fifteen additional fatalities were logged on Saturday and Sunday, raising the death toll in December to 939 and 1,514 in January. Those were the deadliest months since the pandemic began, with fatalities fueled by holiday activities.
The death toll so far in April is 12. The death toll for March stands at 176, and 578 for February.