Orange County has reported 39 more COVID-19 infections as hospitalization rates ticked up.
Hospitalizations increased from 50 on Thursday to 54 on Friday, the same level reported on Wednesday, while the number of patients in intensive care more than doubled from eight to 17.
The county logged another fatality, which occurred last month.
The death toll for June is three; 21 in May; 40 in April; 198 in March; 608 in February; 1554 in January, the deadliest month of the pandemic; and 966 in December, the next deadliest.
The additional infections reported Friday raised the cumulative number of OC cases since the start of the pandemic to 255,810.
“It’s kind of odd — we worked so hard to get to the yellow tier and it goes away,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Doug Chaffee said. “But our numbers are good.”
Chaffee noted it will be interesting to see the impact on the county’s infection rates as large venues such as Disneyland and the Los Angeles Angels allow full-capacity crowds.
“We’ve got a good half of the county vaccinated or at least with one shot,” Chaffee said.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,676,071 fully vaccinated Orange County residents, which is roughly half of the population. Chaffee said about 85% of the county’s senior citizens have been vaccinated.
Chaffee criticized some of the incentives being done to induce more vaccinations. There appears to be some confusion at mobile vaccination sites he has visited regarding how the newly inoculated can obtain a $50 gift card from the state. Chaffee said it would work much better if the cards were just handed out at the time of inoculation instead of making vaccine recipients wait a week and a half and go to redeem it.
“That’s the kind of thing that would really boost” inoculations, if the cards were handed out right away, Chaffee said.
The case rate as of Wednesday in the county was 0.9 per 100,000 residents, and the overall positivity rate was 0.6%, according to Orange County CEO Frank Kim.
“Since the middle of May, the case rate has been 1.3 to 0.7, so it goes up or down one-tenth of a point day-to-day — that’s pretty consistent,” Kim told City News Service on Wednesday. “Hopefully, we don’t see a spike with the reopenings.”
County officials have been keeping an eye on Cal-OSHA and its workplace rules governing mask requirements among employees, Kim said. The state agency on Thursday adopted plan that generally allow vaccinated workers to skip wearing a mask but require that a face covering be worn by the unvaccinated.
Kim met for about an hour Wednesday with department heads to go over the workplace rules and how to head off any harassment based on face coverings.
“It’s important to note that if any employees, because of their own situation, may continue wearing a mask we need to protect those employees from harassment,” he said. “Some people will want to be more cautious.”
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said Cal-OSHA could do a better job of explaining what it intends to do.
“There hasn’t been a lot of clear communication,” Noymer said Thursday. “What we need is a weekly digest in plain English what the current policies are from Cal-OSHA.”
What happens now hardly matters, though, Noymer said.
“From an epidemiological perspective, it doesn’t matter what people do over the summer because the transmission is so low,” Noymer said. “What will matter is when the fall comes or when the Delta variant really takes off, whichever comes first and then all of a sudden it really matters again.”
Orange County Superior Court Presiding Judge Erick L. Larsh issued an order on Friday relaxing some restrictions at the county’s courthouses, which have been closed to the public except for employees and residents with civil or criminal matters pending.
According to the order, starting Monday vaccinated visitors or employees will not have to wear a mask, but unvaccinated people will have to continue wearing a face covering. Court officials will not do anything to check anyone’s vaccination status, instead relying on the honor system.
Court officials are also going to phase in more services available as they let the general public return to the courthouses. The YouTube channels that provide a virtual peek into the courtrooms will be phased out over time, but not right away.
According to weekly state data released every Tuesday, the county’s average daily new case rate per 100,000 residents remained at 0.8, the same as last week, while the overall test positivity rate ticked down from 0.7% to 0.6%. The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, remained at 0.8%. That would have kept the county in the least-restrictive yellow tier, but that system has ended with the state’s reopening on Tuesday.
Kim said he expects the county and state to continue providing weekly averages. Starting July 1, the county will provide weekly updates on COVID-19 statistics instead of weekdays as is the case now. County officials recently stopped updating their website on weekends.
While most of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions were lifted at 12:01 Tuesday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom nonetheless warned the virus is still active — and that mask-wearing will continue to be a reality for non-vaccinated residents, at businesses that opt to require them and for people who simply feel safer wearing them.