As of Wednesday, Orange County had 363 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, 145 of whom were in intensive care units (ICUs), according to Orange County Public Health.

Dr. Andrew Noymer, associate professor of population health and disease prevention for the University of California, Irvine’s Program in Public Health, said “things are taking a turn unfortunately for the worse” in Southern California.

What You Need To Know

  • COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising in Orange County

  • Dr. Andrew Noymer of UC Irvine more concerned about COVID-19 spreading at restaurants than protests

  • More young people tested positive for coronavirus in June than in March and April

“Orange County has been doing well historically in the last few months, but now it's starting to look a lot worse and a lot more like the counties it borders: Los Angeles County, San Diego County,” Dr. Noymer said. “Cases are going up, hospitalizations are going up, ICU hospitalizations are going up, mortality is going up. So even net of the undercounting, statistics are getting worse, not better.”

Undercounting happens when people are sick but don’t get tested for COVID-19, or death certificates falsely list pneumonia or another illness as the cause of death instead of COVID-19. Reading the numbers is a bit like the game WhacK-A-Mole, Dr. Noymer said, because one day deaths could be up and cases could be down, and the next day it could be the inverse.

“It’s never uniformly bad, but enough is going in the wrong direction to make me quite concerned,” he said.

More younger people are testing positive for COVID-19.

“The positive side is that younger people tend to have less severe outcomes, so this will lower the mortality and lower the death-to-case ratio. The percentage of people who get COVID who die will be going down as a result of younger people getting it,” Dr. Noymer said. “There’s no way you can see that as anything but good, but it means that more people overall are getting it. It doesn’t mean that fewer people overall will be dying, it just means the percentage of people dying will be lower.”

Dr. Noymer isn’t sure whether more younger people are actually catching the novel coronavirus, or if more younger people are getting tested for the coronavirus now as compared to March and April. An uptick in cases is also likely due to California’s economy reopening in concurrence with Black Lives Matter protests.

“It's hard to tease out what percentage is due to reopening, what percentage is due to protests. The protests are outdoors. Quite a number of the protesters are masking in spite of their chanting,” Dr. Noymer said. “The restaurants actually cause me more concern than the protests, but I'm not saying that there were no cases transmitted at protests. I'm sure there were. It’s just really hard because we have two things changing at the same time -- restaurants reopening, protests happening -- and it's really hard just from the aggregate numbers to really tease out what is due to what.”

There is concern that a second wave of COVID-19 could strike Californians in the fall and winter, but Dr. Noymer thinks the virus will just “bulldoze through any seasonal effects” because it’s brand new.

“In future years, 2022, ‘23, it may become a seasonal phenomenon, but right now it’s going to bulldoze through the seasonality, and we’re just going to have summer COVID and fall COVID,” he said. “It’s also possible that this is the summer lull, as horrifying as that might seem, that the fall is going to be even worse. We know that respiratory viruses prosper more in the fall: measles, influenza, any virus that is spread through a respiratory droplet does better in the fall and winter. So you know we will only know in retrospect what the situation is.”

Regardless of what wave the country is in, Dr. Noymer said the average person just needs to know that the virus is still here and not going away any time soon.

“The first wave, second wave concept is really of interest to epidemiologists who are looking at the curve after the fact when we’re studying this epidemic,” Dr. Noymer said. “Whether this is the first wave or the second wave, it’s really immaterial to the average person. We need to wear our masks when we go out, we need to wash our hands when we’ve been touching lots of surfaces outside the home, and that is regardless of which wave we’re in.”

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