Doctors are urging Orange County residents to largely follow the public health protocols, even after they’ve been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, until the herd immunity threshold has been reached. 

“Probably the first thing to just note is that being fully vaccinated means it’s two weeks after your second dose, or two weeks after if you got your one dose-vaccine, which is only really the [Johnson and Johnson]. So everyone should wait those requisite two weeks before changing their behavior,” said Dr. Jay Lee, chief medical officer at the local health clinic, Share Our Selves Orange County. 

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More residents can expect to be vaccinated in a few weeks as just about everyone in the state will be eligible for the shot beginning April 15. 

Read: Nearly All Orange County Residents Will Qualify For Coronavirus Vaccinations Next Month

Lee said it’s relatively safe for fully vaccinated people to get together, but stressed it’s better to stay outdoors. 

“If you are in a small group of people that you absolutely know everyone is 100% vaccinated, it’s relatively low risk to have a meal with them outdoors,” Lee said. 

He also said people should avoid large indoor gatherings because the virus has a chance to still spread from vaccinated people. 

“Until we get to a level where more folks are vaccinated to a point where we consider we achieved herd immunity, I would do everything possible to avoid large indoor events, especially ones that are not well ventilated,” Lee said.

During a Voice of OC COVID panel discussion earlier this week, UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert, Andrew Noymer, said fully vaccinated people can start getting out more, as long as they wait the two weeks after the final shot for the immunity to kick in.

Like Lee, Noymer also said people should continue following public health guidance. 

“For people who are viewing this who are fully vaccinated, we need to follow the community guidelines and that includes wearing masks when you go to the grocery store, even if you’re fully vaccinated,” Noymer said. “I’m not saying people should eat out, I’m saying people should act in concert with their own personal risk scale.” 

Watch: Some of Orange County’s Top Public Health Experts Discuss What Residents Can Expect in Coming Weeks

The situation gets a little trickier for fully vaccinated parents. 

“The situation this makes me think of is grandparents and grandchildren. If a grandchild who’s not vaccinated isn’t feeling well, then that plan should be cancelled until which time that child is feeling much better and is symptom free,” Lee said.

Dr. Shruti Gohil, an infectious disease doctor who treats virus patients at UCI Medical Center, said officials should take advantage of the relatively calm situation right now and vaccinate as many people as possible in order to help prevent or curb another wave and to curb mutations. 

“If we play our cards correctly for the next several months, we have much to gain,” Gohil said during Tuesday’s panel. 

UCI epidemiologist and public health expert, Daniel Parker, said life may never get back to pre-pandemic operations.

“We shouldn’t just go back to normal. It’s maybe never going to be completely normal as we knew it. We should still be wearing masks,” Parker said during the panel. “I’m not personally going to go dine indoors. But we do still need to keep in mind that we have community members and neighbors who have businesses and depend on these things. So go get some food and bring it home to eat or go to a park.” 

Meanwhile, hospitalizations continue to hover around 170 people. 

As of Friday, 172 people were hospitalized, including 31 in intensive care units. 

Deaths continue increasing because of delays in reporting, experts like Noymer say. 

A death certificate takes a while to be finalized going from the county to the state, then the certified deaths are sent back to the OC health officials before they can report them.

That means some of the newly reported deaths can stretch back for weeks, even months.

Read: Coronavirus Triggered Orange County’s Deadliest Year in Recent Times

The virus has now killed 4,684 people, including 19 new deaths reported Friday. 

That’s more than eight times the flu kills on a yearly average. 

Virus deaths have now surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC. 

It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively. 

Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.

According to the 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.

Noymer said residents should expect the virus to stick around for the rest of their lives. 

“We’re not going to get to zero COVID. There’s going to be COVID in some way shape or form — for the rest of our lives essentially.” 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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