In Orange County, COVID-19 hospitalizations not requiring intensive care unit admittance declined by approximately 20% between Sept. 7 and Sept. 14, decreasing from 466 to 372 total patients. As of Sept. 14, the Orange County Health Agency COVID-19 dashboard indicated that 115 people were in the ICU.

On Monday, Sept. 13, the Orange County Health Agency reported 10 new COVID-19 deaths, with 1,583 new COVID-19 cases over a three-day period. A week prior, after the Labor Day weekend, HCA reported 1,651 new COVID-19 cases with 20 COVID-related deaths.

In terms of COVID-19 vaccination rates, Orange County has crossed a milestone of more than 2 million individuals fully vaccinated on all platforms, yet experts in Orange County say more needs to be done to protect children in schools.

HCA Director and County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau also expressed concern over a recent pediatric COVID-19 related death, adding that a child under the age of five, with underlying health conditions, died from the virus. In a statement released on Sept. 10, Chau echoed the need for vaccination for individuals over the age of 12.

“My heart goes out to this family who has lost a precious young life. This is an urgent reminder that we must do everything we can to protect our little ones, the children and infants in our community who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” Chau said. “This means being fully vaccinated if you are over the age of 12, as well as wearing a mask indoors, avoiding crowds, maintaining physical distance in poorly ventilated areas, and washing your hands regularly. I cannot stress enough how important these precautions are, not only to protect you, but those you care about around you.”

Still, despite the health officer’s concern about the spread of COVID-19 within the local school system, the discussion of parental choice regarding face masks at school will be a topic of public discussion at the Irvine Unified Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Irvine Unified School District’s Board of Education is set to hear public comments regarding a mask choice resolution, which will be presented by Let Them Breathe. The resolution encourages more parental choice regarding the use of face masks on school campuses, according to the IUSD Board of Education’s Tuesday, Sept. 14 meeting agenda.

Annie Brown, Public Information Officer for Irvine Unified School District, explained that the mask choice resolution was not brought forth by IUSD, adding that the board will not vote on the topic. Brown also said that members of the public are allowed to address the board with topics of interest.

In an email to Irvine Weekly, Brown confirmed that this topic for public comment was made at the request of Let Them Breathe.

Andrew Noymer, professor of epidemiology at UC Irvine, explained that unmasking children in schools is a bad idea, regardless of who makes the decision. While Noymer admits he does not see face masks as a permanent feature, he said it needs to be for the time being.

“They can spread COVID-19 to household members including grandparents and parents – if we’re going to turn down the temperature of COVID transmission society-wide, we need to include kids wearing masks,” Noymer said on a phone call with Irvine Weekly. “I’m not foreseeing a future where everyone goes out in public with masks, but right now, I think we need to mask in schools.”

Currently, IUSD is supporting optional student attestation for vaccination status. With more than 30,000 students now back in daily, in-person education. To help students remain healthy, a message from Annie Brown, Public Information Officer for Irvine Unified, explained that the district will provide free COVID-19 testing kits for students and staff at school sites.

In California, per orders from Gov. Gavin Newson, students are required to wear a face mask when indoors, while on campus.

In his predictions, Noymer said he expects another wave of COVID-19 before next spring, adding that while vaccinations are trending upward, there is still room for more people to get vaccinated against the virus.

“We’ve seen in place after place that we’re not really at herd immunity yet, so there’s still room, unfortunately, for more cases,” he said. “It’s really well documented that this Delta strain is more transmissible, and when you have greater transmissibility, it’s harder to reach herd immunity.”

In Orange County, HCA has now reported that more than 2 million individuals are fully vaccinated. As of Sept. 6, HCA reported that there are 2,043,693 individuals vaccinated on all platforms,

While progress has been made, Noymer cautioned against premature celebration of the county’s milestone, adding that the number of vaccinated individuals needs to be closer to 3 million for the county to be considered “fully vaccinated.”

“The county has 3.26 million residents, and the only people ineligible are under 12 – there’s medical exemptions, but basically 2.8 million would be complete vaccination,” he said. 

While Chau expressed the need to continue to vaccinate Orange County’s younger population, First District Supervisor Andrew Do shared a reminder that despite being fully vaccinated at any age, an individual can still be infected with COVID-19.

In a Facebook post shared on Sept. 10, Do explained that despite receiving the Moderna vaccine, he had tested positive, and was under mandated quarantine.

“Although I received both doses of the Moderna vaccine earlier this year, today I was notified I tested positive for COVID-19 after learning I was exposed. Following CDPH’s safety protocols, I started quarantining at home since yesterday and will continue for 10 days. At this time, I am experiencing only mild symptoms but will continue to monitor and notify the people I have been in close contact with,” Do wrote.