Over 2,000 Orange County residents are now hospitalized with the coronavirus as the second wave continues to batter the county, especially in many working class neighborhoods in north and central OC.
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Positivity rates in many neighborhoods throughout Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Westminster, Santa Ana and surrounding areas are roughly 20% or more.
And many areas throughout south OC are facing positivity rates over 10%, with San Juan Capistrano at over a 15% positivity rate and Lake Forest at a roughly 14% rate.
The county Health Care Agency has teamed up with a host of nonprofit, community organizations to help bring testing, education and critical resources to the county’s hardest hit, often poorest neighborhoods.
The partnerships began with the Santa Ana-based Latino Health Access in June and led to a wave of partnerships with numerous Asian-American and Pacific Islander community organizations by October.
Community organizations succeeded in bringing down the initially high positivity rates.
Then the second wave hit last month.
The increasing positivity rates are sending waves of virus patients to Orange County hospitals, with 2,031 hospitalized as of Monday, including 453 people in intensive care units.
Doctors, epidemiologists and public health officials fear another potential spike stemming from Christmas celebrations, similar to case and hospitalization spikes after Thanksgiving.
The county is already seeing thousands of new cases everyday, averaging over 3,000 new cases a day for the past week.
OC saw 2,144 cases Monday, according to the county Health Care Agency.
State public health officials estimate roughly 12% of all new cases end up in hospitals two to three weeks down the road.
“This is going to be difficult for a while, this is unprecedented and none of us have ever seen anything like this in our lives — it’s the worst public health catastrophe that happened in 100 years, but we’re going to get through this,” said Dr. Michael Katz, a critical care doctor at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton.
He’s also worried about a potential spike caused by Christmas.
“We’re concerned with what we’re living right now is a secondary effect of people getting together on Thanksgiving and things might get worse if people congregate on Christmas and New Years,” Katz said in a phone interview last Wednesday.
Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, is also worried about another holiday spike.
“We always knew we were going into a tough time with the holidays,” Ghaly said at a Monday news conference.
Ghaly said officials aren’t worried about hospital space, but staffing — a concern echoed by numerous doctors interviewed by Voice of OC over the past month.
“We are less worried about the space in some of our facilities, although it’s true some hospitals are using every inch of space to take care of patients,” Ghaly said. “Our bigger worry right now is staffing.”
The county Health Care Agency has been building mobile field hospitals — tents with beds — in some hospital parking lots to create more space.
UC Irvine Medical Center, St. Jude Medical Center, Los Alamitos Hospital and Fountain Valley Regional Hospital either have or are slated to get tents.
On Saturday, OC Emergency Medical Services Director, Dr. Charles Schultz, stopped forcing packed emergency rooms to take ambulance patients and reinstated “diversion,” which is when an ambulance can drive to the nearest emergency room if the first one is full.
The delays in getting someone from an ambulance to a hospital bed caused Schultz to allow paramedics to drop relatively stable patients in the waiting room if the ambulance has been waiting an hour or more.
“The directive is necessary as delays in off-loading ambulance patients at Orange County emergency receiving centers is now becoming very serious,” reads Schutlz’ directive.
The virus has now killed 1,846 people out of 149,607 confirmed cases in OC.
It’s already killed more than three times as many people as the flu does on a yearly average.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
According to those state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
Orange County has already surpassed its yearly average 20,000 deaths, with 21,110 people dead as of November, according to the latest available state data.
It’s a difficult virus for the medical community to tackle because some people don’t show any symptoms, yet can still spread it. Others feel slight symptoms, like fatigue and a mild fever. Others end up in ICUs for days and weeks before making it out, while other people eventually die from the virus.
Meanwhile, numerous restaurants and bars throughout the county are flaunting state regional shutdown orders.
OC Sheriff Don Barnes has repeatedly said deputies won’t enforce the state orders, but are instead using an education first approach.
At Monday’s news conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said state officials might withhold bailout money from counties not enforcing the orders.
“If that’s indeed the case, then the distribution of these discretionary COVID dollars will be distributed to other counties,” Newsom said. “If you refuse to comply, you thumb your nose at the health of the constituents … you obviously don’t care to get the support from the state as it relates to those dollars.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio