In Orange County as in California as a whole, coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have been climbing for at least a month, prompting public health officials to implore everyone to resume wearing masks in public settings and get a vaccine if they haven’t already.
As of Friday, the weekly average number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 OC residents was 15.3, and the percentage of tests coming back positive jumped to 7.9%, more than 2 points higher than last week, OC Deputy Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said.
With the delta variant – which health experts say is more contagious than other strains – dominating OC’s new cases, some officials are particularly worried about children getting infected and potentially becoming very ill.
“The rate of hospitalization for kids is still low, but it’s happening,” with eight children now hospitalized in Orange County, Chinsio-Kwong said, adding that last month 11 children were treated by OC hospitals for COVID-19, “and all of them were unvaccinated.”
The three vaccines being used in the U.S. have not yet been authorized for anyone under 12; more than 53% of the county’s 243,000-plus youths ages 12 to 17 have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, according to data from the OC Health Care Agency.
Chinsio-Kwong spoke during an online press conference arranged by OC District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley, who said she plans to offer daily coronavirus updates to the public starting Monday. Foley said earlier Friday that she’s trying to fill an information gap, since the county hasn’t held a regular media briefing in months and the Orange County Board of Supervisors doesn’t always hear or discuss updates at its biweekly meetings.
“I think the landscape is changing so quickly every day that we need to make sure the public stays informed,” she said.
Chinsio-Kwong said the vaccines have proven very effective, especially at preventing serious illness, but some inoculated people have still become infected – and they may have mild or no symptoms and unknowingly pass the virus on to loved ones.
She recommended that parents, even if fully vaccinated, avoid crowded settings and when out they wear masks, especially if their kids haven’t gotten a shot or only had one dose.
Meanwhile, some OC cities are taking their own steps to curb the virus’s spread in their communities.
Irvine announced in late July that masks are now required in all city facilities, and sometime this month the city will begin asking its employees to show proof they’ve been vaccinated or get a COVID-19 test every week.
With the new regulations, city leaders are following the lead of some larger California cities and the state government, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan said. Laguna Beach recently announced similar plans.
Late last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said state workers would have to show they’re inoculated or get tested, and on Thursday, the state health officer ordered all health care workers to be vaccinated by the end of September.
Khan said city leaders hope the policy will encourage workers to get vaccinated if they haven’t already, and that it will help find infections among workers before they spread.
“We want to make sure that we’re protecting not only them, but also the public by having them get tested,” she said.
Earlier this week, Anaheim Councilman Avelino Valencia joined with state and federal legislators and the Orange County Employees Association to hold a vaccine event at a family resource center not far from Disneyland – and they went out of their way to get people in the door.
They gave shots to nearly 100 people, Valencia said, and “we firmly believe those 100 people would not have been vaccinated unless we were walking up to their doors and encouraging them to walk back with us to the clinic.”
One woman who lived a short walk from the center told organizers that while she wanted to get a vaccine, she hadn’t gone earlier for fear of losing a parking space on her crowded street and ending up with a ticket, Valencia said, adding that “all those little things” can create barriers for some residents.
Valencia said Anaheim officials are encouraging but not mandating vaccinations for city workers and masks for everyone in city facilities. He plans to ask his council colleagues to have the city study forming its own health department, and while that may not be the best fit for Anaheim, he said he’d at least like the city to create an advisory commission on public health.