As both health experts and county officials in Orange County continue to reiterate the need for people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, O.C. is still seeing a strong pushback against vaccine mandates.

As of Tuesday, August 17, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported 668 new COVID-19 cases, with three new COVID-19 related deaths. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Orange County also continues to rise, now with 549 people being treated for COVID-19, with 126 of that total in the intensive care unit.

Since August 10, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by 54 patients, with 30 of those cases requiring ICU admittance.

Dr. Clayton Chau, Director of the Orange County Health Agency and County Health Officer, spoke to the media during a press conference held by O.C.’s 2nd District Supervisor Katrina Foley on Tuesday, August 17. During his remarks, Chau said there was less than 25% capacity in the county’s ICU capacity.

“About a week ago on August 9, we had 84 people in the ICU, now we have 120. As far as pediatrics goes, we know we have four kids at CHOC, and about 11 in the entire hospital. But the fact that we have kids in the ICU, I don’t like,” he said. “Adult staff-able ICU beds are 22.2% available — for the entire county.”

Chau said COVID-19 patients currently constitute 27.5% of O.C.’s ICU patients. Under the recent surge of COVID-19 in Orange County, Chau referenced the now-defunct tier system, adding that Orange County would currently be in the Red Tier in terms of case rate and positivity rate. 

In Orange County, HCA reports that the adjusted daily case rate is 20.2 per 100,000. The test positivity rate is 8.1%, per the August 17 report.

While more cities around the country are adopting vaccine verification methods in order to reduce community spread, Orange County is experiencing more pushback against vaccine mandates from a number of groups, including health care workers.

When questioned about his knowledge regarding those driving the pushback against vaccine mandates within the health care system, Chau said he was aware of the situation.

Chau added that health care workers have until September 30 to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, based on the mandatory vaccination mandate from the California State Health Officer for teachers, school staff and health care workers. 

The city of Irvine announced it would require all of its city workers to show proof of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

However, Chau said he was unsure of the protocol individual medical companies would follow regarding health care workers opting to remain unvaccinated.

“Each of the business entities, including the county, would have to work with their legal counsel to figure out what is the appropriate disciplinary action that must be taken for any health care workers that have not been compliant with that order,” Chau explained to Irvine Weekly. “The Health Care Agency is included in that order. The county council is working very closely with our labor union, and eventually, it’s going to come up to Supervisor Foley.”

Chau said it was not surprising to learn of expectations from the Biden administration to announce a COVID-19 booster shot for “most Americans” eight months after receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

“The surprising piece to me is that we have to use the language approximately — are we talking a third dose or are we talking about a booster shot? Because, at least the Moderna and the Pfizer maker are working on a booster shot — the booster shot is a shot that is not the original first-generation vaccine, and they are expecting to wrap up their clinical trial for the true booster shot sometime in late September,” he said. “I’m speculating that the FDA will probably approve it sometime late fall to early winter.”

Chau said he had not heard anything coming from President Biden, but he said it was not surprising a third dose could potentially be authorized in the future, predicting that the approval of a third dose would be authorized for those 65 and older within the next two weeks.

“I think the Biden announcement — I have not heard that announcement — might be talking about a third dose for all Americans. I think that is not surprising. We started over the weekend with people who were immunosuppressant — I’m expecting that in two weeks they’ll probably move that to 65 and older,” Chau explained via Zoom. “In two weeks my prediction is they’re going to open it up to 65 and older, and health care providers — then two, three weeks, a month they’ll open it up to everybody else. That’s my prediction.”