Orange County should expect to start seeing more COVID deaths in the coming weeks following a rise in Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
At a Tuesday news conference convened by Supervisor Katrina Foley, OC Deputy Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said COVID-19 deaths typically follow a spike in hospitalizations.
During the previous two COVID surges in OC, Chinsio-Kwong said “Our highest amount of deaths would happen after our peak of hospitalizations. So we haven’t seen nothing yet, unfortunately,” Chinsio-Kwong said.
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Incoming deaths aren’t mirroring the wave of fatalities that followed the Winter surge.
That’s because of high vaccination rates for older people throughout OC, UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said.
But deaths will still increase following the recent hospital surge, he said.
According to the OC Health Care Agency, there are already 48 people who have died from COVID this month.
“The deaths in August are definitely up and if you look at the curve in deaths on the dashboard, deaths are going up again. But it’s nowhere near the January peak and nowhere even near the peak during last Summer. But they are going up and they’re getting younger,” Noymer said in a Monday phone interview.
Like previous COVID waves in OC, the actual death count will go up over the next few weeks due to reporting delays.
A continuous stream of deaths followed the Winter wave, largely due to reporting delays at the state.
At a Friday news briefing, OC Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said some of the deaths could stretch back a month.
For instance, in early January, 110 new deaths were reported one day, but many of those deaths stretched back into December when hospitals were rapidly filling up.
One of Orange County’s deadliest weeks was also seen during early January, which saw 219 people killed by coronavirus.
At that time, the virus had killed 2,120 people in OC.
More than 3,000 people have died since then.
As of Tuesday, the virus has killed 5,225 people, including 5 new deaths reported, according to the county Health Care Agency.
While the positivity rate decreased to 6.8%, hospitalizations remain stable.
There were 556 people hospitalized, including 150 in intensive care units.
The average age of hospitalizations is starting to trend younger.
“The overall pattern is that it’s the 30, 40, 50 year olds who are getting hospitalized compared to previous surges when it was usually 65 and older,” Chinsio-Kwong said.
She also said there’s an increase in teenagers being hospitalized in the ICU, according to data on teenage hospitalizations from the CDC.
“For the 16 to 17 year olds … 24.8% of them were in the ICU and 5.6% of those were on the ventilator,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “These are still pretty young folks and you don’t expect people in those ages to be hospitalized … those are still pretty high ICU rates.”
She broke it down another way:
“If you had 100 16-to-17-year olds in the hospital, a quarter of them would be in the ICU. That’s a lot. That’s really concerning.”
There could also be a case bump from Labor Day weekend, Chinsio-Kwong said.
“So we’re going to start seeing a rise,” she said. “I’m assuming we’re going to start seeing a rise after Sept. 6.”
Chau said he expects to see a rise in children’s cases because they’ll bring the virus with them into the schools.
“I have a suspicion that we will see a rise in cases in our children before there is a plateau because really it is the community transmission that puts them at risk and when they come to school they’re going to take the virus with them,” Chau said during Friday’s news briefing.
Various state mandates require students and staff to wear masks, while all school employees have to either be fully vaccinated or undergo a weekly testing regiment.
Outside of schools, transportation centers and hospitals, nearly all pandemic restrictions — like mandatory masks and business limitations — have been dropped since the June 15 statewide reopening.
Within weeks, cases began to steadily rise, followed by hospitalizations.
Chau said he’s been speaking with school superintendents regularly and they’ve noticed children are catching the virus outside of the classrooms.
“They have noticed that there are more cases of kids who come into schools and get infected from outside of school — from the community.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio