Local News

Local COVID-19 Update: Infection Rates, Testing, and Contact Tracing

The coronavirus (officially SARS-CoV-2) continues to spread across the country, with little sign of abatement. Some people who are infected by the coronavirus never experience significant, if any, symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.  Some become very sick, and over 150,000 have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. A larger number of younger people are being infected by the coronavirus in recent weeks, but it is still the aged and those who suffer from other chronic conditions who are dying at higher rates from COVID-19.  It is becoming clear that a large number of people who survive a bout with COVID-19,  previously healthy or not, suffer damage to heart, lung, and/or other organ and systems that may last for the rest of their lives.
The state has recently seen an alarming number of record highs in new cases reported on successive days.

Orange County’s total population is 3,164,182. To date, the county has recorded 35,778 cumulative known cases, with 604 recorded fatalities from the disease. 22,787 people are estimated to have recovered from COVID-19 in some form.

In Fullerton, 129 children are known to have tested positive for the for coronavirus in all age groups under 18:

0-3 yrs – 20
4-9 yrs –  28
10-12 yrs – 18
13-14 yrs – 10
15-18 yrs – 53

The cumulative number of all known cases of COVID-19 in Fullerton has risen from 257 on June 9 to 1,657 on July 30. There have been 26 known deaths from the disease in the city.

Orange County cases by age group as of July 31.

The Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) is attempting to reach a greater population of county residents, especially those in low income areas and non-English speakers, to inform them of the dangers of virus and how to avoid being infected or spreading it. The HCA is producing postcards directing people to the county’s website and preparing flyers in various languages, as well as advertising on digital billboards, transit shelters and other outdoor locations to emphasize the need to wash hands frequently, maintain a social distance of at least six feet from others, and to wear a face covering to help to stop or minimize transmission.

Although infection rates continue to rise in the county, HCA Director Dr. Clayton Chau often points to the availability of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds as an indicator that the county’s hospitals are still capable of accommodating the most serious COVID-19 cases. The state and county track the number and percentage of ICU beds and ventilators each day. The most current information shows that 34% of the county’s ICU beds are unoccupied, and 56% of its ventilators are available should they be needed. Ventilators are used in the most serious cases of the disease where patients cannot breathe adequately on their own. The California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) threshold is to have at least 20% of beds and 25% of ventilators to be available at any given time.

The CDPH also has threshold numbers for other infections statistics, found on the HCA’s website HERE, including no more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. OC’s current rate is 140 per 100,000. The county’s percentage of positive COVID tests per total tests given is 9.3%, just over the state threshold of 8%, but that number has varied widely in recent weeks. These values are averaged over 14 days and 7 days respectively, with 3-day lag times for reporting. County officials stress that what is most important is to watch the long-term trends of infections and deaths instead of individual daily tallies.

Dr. Chau noted that the change in national reporting protocol that has hospitals reporting test results to the Department of Health and Human Services instead of directly to the Centers for Disease Control has resulted in delays in some reporting. The change has been widely criticized, and viewed with alarm, as a politicly motivated move by the Trump administration to control information about the coronavirus.

In recent weeks Orange County’s Health Care Agency opened a drive-thru testing “Supersite” in the parking lot of the Anaheim Convention Center to serve more than 1,000 people per day. Appointments are required. Individuals are directed to first contact their primary care doctor to try to arrange a test. More information about the Anaheim site can be found at HERE.

Drive-through testing at the Anaheim Convention Center.

There is no cost for OC residents who are symptomatic and who otherwise cannot get a test. The county’s goal, as directed by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, has been to test those with symptoms, as well as high risk workers like first responders, healthcare workers, and essential workers, who might be expected to have a higher exposure level to the virus. On July 16 County CEO Frank Kim said that there has been no effort to seek out asymptomatic people for testing, even though the virus can be transmitted by individuals who show no symptoms of the disease.

The HCA once spoke of training existing county workers to take on the critical task of contact tracing, where movements and contacts of those testing positive are traced to try to determine where they might have been infected with the virus. Ultimately, the county chose to contract with a private firm, expected to begin that work in August. During a press conference  with reporters on July 23, HCA Director Chau acknowledged that “transmission is in the community now,” and that anywhere one goes one is at risk, noting that there were spikes in detected infections two weeks after the Memorial Day weekend, the county’s June 17 partial reopening, and the July 4 holiday.

Once on the low end of per capita infection rates regionally, Orange County’s began to outpace Los Angeles County two weeks ago, although Dr. Chau stressed that the county’s decision to prioritize the testing of symptomatic people would naturally lead to higher known rates of infection.

On Tuesday, July 28 all five members of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted to designate a day in August for Law Enforcement Appreciation in the wake of months of protests against police nationwide and within Orange County. Even as BOS Chair Michelle Steel made the announcement of the resolution, introduced by her, had been unanimously adopted, some reporters questioned why most local law enforcement agencies have not been willing to cite individuals for not wearing face coverings around others, as mandated by the state, to help curtail the spread of the virus. Neither the Orange County Sheriff Department nor the Fullerton Police Department cite individuals for not wearing face coverings where required, though Costa Mesa’s police department does. Both FPD and OCSD argue that education is a more effective method of increasing overall compliance with the order.

Even though there exists in OC, as in other locales, deliberate and organized intransigence against the wearing of face coverings during the pandemic, County CEO Frank Kim insists “adherence to face coverings has improved markedly over the last several weeks.”

Dr. Chau revealed that county management has several good candidates for the position of County Health Officer, left vacant by the resignation of Dr. Nicole Quick, following threats to her safety in June. Dr. Chau took on the post on an interim basis shortly after being hired as Health Care Agency Director. The recently vacated position of Deputy Health Director is expected to be filled once a final section of Health Officer has been made.

Cumulative COVID-19 positive cases in Fullerton between June 6 and July 30.

 

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