State public health officials and local epidemiologists warn there is likely going to be a second wave of Coronavirus spikes in the coming months, based on experiences in other parts of the country and world.
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“So we’re going to have either a fall/winter wave or a winter wave — a second wave. I can’t exactly tell you when that wave will crest,” said Andrew Noymer, a public health expert and epidemiologist at UC Irvine.
“We had this big wave in the summertime, in June/July. everyone remembers that. But that’s not the epidemic. This epidemic is going to have waves — plural. That wave that has now come and gone, that’s not the epidemic gone and over,” Noymer said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said hospitalizations could increase by next month.
“We predict a 46 percent increase a month from now. So down from where we were before, but still an area of concern,” he said at a Tuesday news conference.
“Many states across the nation and frankly nations across the globe are facing new waves of cases,” Ghaly said.
Dr. Thomas Cesario, an infectious disease doctor and former dean of the UC Irvine School of Medicine, also said things look to be trending back up.
“Looks like we’ve had a little uptick. So I think that second wave may be quite likely,” Cesario said in a Thursday phone interview. “I don’t know it’ll be as bad as the first, but I think it’s entirely possible we’re going to see a blip.”
“If you look at the curve, across the country, you can see that curve starts to go back up again,” Cesario said.
Dr. Matthew Zahn, medical director of the county Health Care Agency’s communicable disease control division, also said he expects an uptick.
“I think that we are all anticipating a potential increase in the number of cases simply because we are entering cold and flu season,” Zahn said at a Thursday news conference. “The idea is that as it gets colder and people go inside and crowd inside more often.”
But, Zahn said, if people follow current public health safety measures, it may be avoidable.
During the summer case spikes, over 700 people were hospitalized at one point in July.
The spikes came after an intense mask debate in OC after former health officer Dr. Nichole Quick issued a mask order before the Memorial Day reopenings, which saw restaurants and other businesses rush to reopen their doors.
The mask order sparked protests and prompted a public backlash, with Quick eventually resigned by early June after receiving scores of threats, including one Supervisor Michelle Steel classified as a “death threat.”
Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has killed 1,434 county residents out of 57,848 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
Hospitalizations remain in a holding pattern, with 168 people hospitalized, including 56 in intensive care units.
“Basically Orange County is just plotting along,” Noymer said. “There’s every reason to expect a fall wave and all that. Our summer wave was quite late. So the fall wave will probably be a little later. I’m expecting more waves.”
“The top down approach for mitigating COVID 19 from Sacramento is not working,” Steel said at a Thursday news conference.
“Despite the fact that Orange County’s hospitalizations have remained under 200 for a month …. The state is using a top-down one size fits all approach for all 58 counties,” Steel said. “This is harming our residents who need work, small businesses and the communities that rely on them.”
She said state officials should toss the current guidelines and work with counties on localized guidelines.
“There needs to be a plan to work with all 58 counties on an individual basis to address the issues that affect each county differently,” Steel said.
But she didn’t offer specifics on what that could look like.
And most small businesses are open, along with large retailers and malls across the county.
Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm won’t be able to open until the county advances to the least restrictive fourth tier on the state’s reopening guidelines, a move OC health officer Dr. Clayton Chau doesn’t expect to happen until next Summer. OC is currently in the second tier.
Steel and other county supervisors have been pushing for Disneyland to reopen.
UC Irvine economist Ami Glazer said reopening Disneyland likely won’t fix the county’s budget woes like officials are hoping for.
“Transportation is down 46 percent. It has had some increase since July, but not dramatically. But that suggests that tourism, if Disney does open, it’s not going to have a huge effect. And we know that from Disney World in Orlando,” Glazer said.
But, Glazer said, local spending has rebounded a bit.
“In Orange County, total spending by all consumers is 8.6 percent lower than in January of the year and it was as bad as 35 percent around April. So we’ve come back. But I’d say since around July, it’s been pretty constant, it hasn’t gotten worse, but it hasn’t gotten better. So my guess is that it will continue on that pattern,” he said, adding there’s similar spending patterns across the country.
He also said the virus has shaken consumer confidence, so people aren’t going out and spending the way they used to. It’ll likely stay that way until a vaccine lands, Glazer said.
If Disneyland were to open, Glazer said he doesn’t expect Anaheim to make much money from it since airline travel and tourism is severely down across the country.
“The municipality of Anaheim, much of its revenue is coming through the hotel occupancy tax and if people aren’t coming from a different region, there’s not going to be much revenue.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio