SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — Orange County continued its stable COVID-19 trends Wednesday, reporting less than three dozen new infections and a slight decrease in intensive care unit patients.
Hospitalizations remained at 54 Wednesday, the same as Tuesday, with the number of patients in intensive care decreasing from 15 to 13.
The county logged two additional fatalities, but one was in March and the other occurred Dec. 27. One of the fatalities was a skilled nursing facility resident, increasing the cumulative in that category to 1,132.
The death toll for June is 2; 20 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 33 new infections reported Wednesday nudged the cumulative caseload up to 255,728.
The case rate in the county is 0.9 per 100,000 residents, and the overall positivity rate is at 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. "Hopefully, we don't see a spike with the reopenings."
County officials are keeping an eye on what Cal-OSHA does with workplace rules governing mask requirements among employees, Kim said. The agency is expected to vote Thursday on a plan that would allow vaccinated workers to skip wearing a mask but requiring them from the unvaccinated, Kim said.
"I'm not so worried about the actual guidance," Kim said. "It's really managing any (human resources) issues that could surface."
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," Kim said. "Some people will want to be more cautious."
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 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.
Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director of the UCI Family Health Centers, said of the state's reopening, "If you want to call it a summer vacation from COVID-19, that's appropriate."
He added, "People are tired mentally and physically at this point. They want to move on in some capacity and want to feel like there's some normalcy to their summer compared to last summer."
Mayorga, however, said Californians should respect one another's choices whether to continue wearing face coverings.
"It may be difficult for some of us to move on and feel comfortable removing their masks," he said Tuesday. "Don't give them a hard time. Everyone will do it in their own time."
Mayorga noted that he "will likely not get ill" because he is fully vaccinated, but will keep a mask on indoors in public places.
"We know that from the vaccine, but I can also transmit it to my child and I don't know how they'll respond," he said.
Also, some people may have a compromised immune system or live with someone who does, Mayorga said. Some immuno-compromised individuals who have been fully vaccinated are protected at a fraction of healthier people.
Mayorga said as masks are used less, there is likely to be a resurgence in other viruses that are more common, so psychologically some people may get nervous if they get a cold or the flu, thinking it is COVID-19. The doctor said anyone feeling any cold or flu symptoms should get tested just in case.
COVID-19 is a seasonal virus and may see a resurgence in the fall or winter, he said, predicting it will be difficult to get people to mask up and do other social distancing if that happens.
"The only reason it affected us so tremendously is it was new. It was novel," he said. "Now is the time to get protection because it takes almost two months to get full protection if you choose the (two-dose) MRNA vaccines, which are proving to be the most efficacious."
The one-step Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also proving to be highly effective against the variants like the Delta strain, which is more contagious, Mayorga said. It takes about two weeks for Johnson & Johnson recipients to be fully vaccinated, he said.
The county has "made some great strides" vaccinating minority groups hardest hit by the pandemic, he said. But, he added, "Latino men are still among the most resistant groups to get vaccinated."
Mayorga has noticed as he works with community groups vaccinating in Latino neighborhoods that "the matriarch of the family, that mom, has not only signed up their kids, but are also signing up their husbands, saying, `Nope, you're getting this vaccine to protect you and the kids. I'm not going at this alone.' They have really pushed them."
He said about 27% of the 39.4% eligible Latinos to receive a vaccine are getting inoculated in the state. Among whites, 36% of the 38.2% eligible vaccine recipients have been inoculated.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, encouraged residents to enjoy the summer, when case rates are expected to remain low, and praised the state's move to lift pandemic-related restrictions.
"I hate this phrase `reopening the economy' because the economy has been doing fine. Just look at California's tax receipts," Noymer told City News Service on Monday. "It's about reopening social events. I think it's totally appropriate right now based on epidemiology."
Public health officials are wise to support a summer vacation from many COVID-19 restrictions, Noymer said.
"We cannot keep things under a regime as if it's early January 2021 now given the situation," he said. "(Public health officials) would burn every ounce of credibility they have. I am well-known as a stern, cautious person, but when the situations change, life changes and I think you should go back to your favorite restaurant this summer. If your chicken taco recipe is still not as good as the taco place you like to go to, then go back to the taco place."
But like Mayorga, Noymer cautioned residents to be ready for another potential wave in the fall as more people spend more time indoors and children go back to school.
The key to defeating the coronavirus is vaccinations, he said.
"I do worry about kids spreading it, but mostly older kids," Noymer said. "Ninety-five percent of spreading by minors is (by) 12 to 17 (year olds) .... People need to get the vaccine and take responsibility for their actions."
If everyone 12 and older got inoculated, the country would achieve herd immunity and it would not be necessary to vaccinate younger children, Noymer said.
The current vaccines show 88% efficacy against infection for the new and more contagious Delta strain, Noymer said.