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By Collin Breaux

Similar to the rest of the country and the world, South Orange County is again seeing a wave of COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant.

In the words of Dr. Mark Schafer, CEO of MemorialCare Medical Foundation, the Delta variant seems to be the current main strain and is much more infectious than previous strains.

The grim situation marks a departure from how conditions were on June 15, when the state’s economy reopened and people celebrated what seemed then like a positive turnaround for the pandemic due to then-low case numbers.

“These patients that are getting admitted, the vast majority are unvaccinated,” Schafer said.

MemorialCare doesn’t specifically test patients for the Delta variant, but public health departments are able to, he said. The recent rise in case numbers has been over the past three to four weeks, according to Schafer.

MemorialCare has distributed more than 200,000 vaccines so far, and vaccination reduces the chances of being hospitalized, Schafer said.

Regarding vaccine hesitancy, Schafer said it is important to educate people about the safety and benefits of vaccines. MemorialCare has put out videos and other information explaining vaccines, and it has clinics and online appointments available if people have not already received doses.

“We encourage people to get vaccinated,” Schafer said.

Indoor gatherings without masks can increase spread of the virus, he said. Large-scale, in-person gatherings have gradually returned in South Orange County, often without masks or social distancing.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the county health officer and director of the OC Health Care Agency, said officials know that the Delta variant is responsible for many of the increases in Orange County. The agency provided comments that Chau made during a media availability on Friday, Aug. 13, after an interview request.

“Fully vaccinated people are much less likely to become infected with COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” Chau said. “We know there are breakthrough cases, but they are likely to have no symptoms or very mild symptoms.”

Chau recommended getting tested if exposed or experiencing symptoms, continuing to wear masks in public places, avoiding crowds, and maintaining physical distancing.

Masks are required indoors on California school campuses, inside the Orange County Superior Courthouse in Santa Ana, and indoors at Disneyland. However, there are no countywide mask or vaccinate mandates. Whether people wear masks in some places in Orange County depends on the individual.

Vaccinations or regular testing are now required of all public and private K-12 school employees in California due to the Delta variant. Health care workers in the state must also be fully vaccinated.

“Between Aug. 3 and Aug. 10, the seven-day average case rate jumped from 14.8 to 19.4 per 100,000 people, with the average number of daily COVID-19 cases rising from 477 to 627,” OC Health Care Agency said in a news release on Aug. 12.

The positivity rate also increased from 7.2 to 8.3 percent, hospitalizations from 375 to 495, and ICU admissions from 68 to 91, the agency reported.

Close to 22 million people in California—64.6% of the state’s population—are fully vaccinated. In Orange County as of Aug. 12, the number of fully vaccinated people is close to 2 million. Orange County’s total estimated population is more than 3 million.

As of Tuesday, Aug. 17, there were 2,117 daily COVID-19 cases in Orange County; two deaths that day; 275,964 cumulative cases; and 5,158 cumulative deaths. There were 538 hospitalizations—124 of those in the ICU. Cumulative recoveries are at 255,226.

On a city level, San Clemente has 3,528 cumulative cases; Dana Point 1,774 cases; San Juan Capistrano 3,037 cases; and Rancho Mission Viejo 404 cases.

   San Clemente has had 40 cumulative coronavirus-related deaths, Dana Point 33 deaths, San Juan Capistrano 74 deaths, and Rancho Mission Viejo fewer than 5 deaths. As unincorporated land with fewer than 25,000 residents, the exact death total will not be reported for Rancho Mission Viejo until it reaches five.

Visit othena.com or call the OC COVID-19 Hotline at 714.834.2000 to find a vaccine location.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.                         

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