O.C. officials urge vaccination as COVID hospitalizations more than double amid delta variant’s spread

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People enter Disneyland Park as it reopens on April 30, 2021, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the park to shut down. (David McNew / Getty Images)

People enter Disneyland Park as it reopens on April 30, 2021, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the park to shut down. (David McNew / Getty Images)

With the coronavirus’ spread once again putting pressure on Orange County hospitals amid a surge in delta variant cases, local officials warned the unvaccinated Monday that they’re likely to become infected.

The delta variant now accounts for more than 90% of cases sequenced in the region, fueling a surge of infections that caused hospitalizations to more than double in the past two weeks, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said in a briefing.

Around 90% of those hospitalized in the county are unvaccinated, Foley added.

“Choosing not to get vaccinated is choosing to get COVID because at this point, mostly everyone who is not vaccinated will get COVID,” she said.

The virus is largely spreading among young adults ages 20 to 40, and transmission is occurring in all communities countywide, said Dr. Matthew Zahn, O.C.’s deputy health officer.

“For a long time during this pandemic, our Hispanic community has borne the overwhelming brunt of illness, our communities in Santa Ana and Anaheim in particular,” he said. “Right now, it’s just not localized that way anymore. Every city and every race and ethnicity has been impacted.”

The county reported an increase of 2,181 positive cases and two deaths over the weekend.

On Monday there were more than 550 people battling the virus in county hospitals, with 84 of them in intensive care.

That’s more than double the 215 people hospitalized less than two weeks ago on July 27. And while hospitalizations didn’t increase over the weekend, Zahn said there was an increase in people admitted to the ICU.

Amid the surge, more hospitals are asking ambulances to be diverted away from their facility for longer periods of time. Measured as diversion hours, that figure last week reached a level not seen since the massive winter surge, said Dr. Carl Schultz, the county’s emergency services manager.  

The average amount of time it takes to get patients from an ambulance into the hospital is also rising, and was at about 32 minutes for 90% of patients this week.

“Those two numbers are what we monitor. Both of them have been going up and are high enough that it’s worthwhile for me as the medical director to request the hospitals in Orange County to start engaging in voluntary activity to try and reduce those numbers,” Schultz said.

While more than 70% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, “we’re still seeing cases and we’re seeing a surge in cases, and I think it’s really important for people out there who have not been vaccinated to recognize that,” Zahn said.

For those waiting for a vaccine to get full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Zahn said  the data the agency is reviewing is largely the same as what’s being shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have conducted an extraordinary operation in this country to identify and review any sort of side effects that happen associated with these vaccines,” he said. “We have a great deal of evidence that these vaccines are safe and that they work well.”

Zahn said many people have also expressed concerns about the vaccine resulting in infertility, but there’s absolutely no scientific data to support that.  

“Hundreds of millions of people in this in this country have been vaccinated, and we see no evidence that there’s a concern or issue associated with fertility,” he said. “That is absolutely not a reason to not get yourself or your children vaccinated.”

Click here to find out where O.C. is offering free vaccines. Residents can also visit this page to request a free coronavirus test kit be sent to their house.

Foley said the county still has no plans for an indoor mask mandate, saying there would be issues in enforcing it. But everyone, including those fully vaccinated, is still highly encouraged to mask up indoors.

“We’re really just relying on the public to make good decisions to protect themselves and their neighbors and their families and their friends, and wear the mask because it’s the common sense,” Foley said.

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