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OC Health Care Agency announces COVID-19 updates

Between December 23 and December 29, the seven-day average COVID-19 case rate in Orange County jumped from 10.8 to 19 per 100,000 people and the average number of daily COVID-19 cases rose from 348 to 614. The positivity rate also increased from 3.3 to 5.4 percent, hospitalizations from 229 to 376, and ICU admissions from 54 to 72 per day.

“As we anticipated, Orange County COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising steeply due to increased gatherings and traveling over the holidays,” says Dr. Clayton Chau, HCA Director and County Health Officer. “The risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 is extremely high during this time as more people are in close contact with one another. We ask that you please continue to exercise precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including limiting or avoid gathering with others if possible. As always, get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested if you experience symptoms or 3-5 days after becoming exposed, wear your mask indoors, and stay home if you are sick.”

COVID-19 Test Kits Available to Order Online

To support early detection of COVID-19 and contain the spread of the disease, the OC Health Care Agency (HCA) continues to offer self-collection, at-home COVID-19 Test Kits at no cost to people who work or live in Orange County. The test kits can be ordered online by visiting ochealthinfo.com/covidtest.

The self-collection Test Kit is acceptable for use by individuals 18 years of age and older when self-collected, for use by individuals 15 years of age and older when self-collected under adult supervision, and for use by individuals 4 years of age and older when collected with adult assistance. It is a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test that may be administered in the convenience of the individual’s home. Each kit comes with a prepaid shipping return label and results are provided within 24-48 hours upon receipt of the specimen. An email address is required for each individual requesting a test kit.

“These are not rapid antigen tests which are currently in short supply throughout the country,” said Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, Chief of Public Health Services. “Results from PCR tests usually take up to 48 hours but are very reliable for people with or without symptoms, meaning you’re less likely to obtain false negatives or positives. Please keep in mind that you are strongly encouraged to stay home if you feel sick, and to test for COVID-19 3 to 5 days after gathering or traveling, which should allow for sufficient time to order a test kit and receive results. Although we don’t encourage gathering or traveling during this time of high COVID-19 transmission, if you do need results sooner, we encourage you to check with your healthcare provider or local retail pharmacy. Test providers may be onsite at airports for those choosing to travel. Some additional testing resources are listed at ochealthinfo.com/covidtest.”

CDC Shortens Isolation and Quarantine Period

On December 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations to shorten the time for isolation due to COVID-19 infection and quarantine due to exposure to someone infected with COVID-19. The recommendations include:

  1. Regardless of vaccination status, if you test positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, you are now required to stay home (isolate) for 5 days since symptom onset (or test collection day) and to wear a well-fitting mask around others for at least 5 additional days. If you have a fever, continue to stay home until your fever resolves without fever reducing medication.
  2. If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, and:
    • You have received an eligible booster, completed your primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last 6 months, or completed your primary series of Johnson & Johnson within the last 2 months, you do not need to stay home (quarantine) but you must wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days. Please test on day 5; and, if your result is positive from this test or if you develop symptoms, stay home (isolate) and follow directions as in #1 above.
    • You have not yet received an eligible booster for any vaccine or are unvaccinated, you are required to stay home (quarantine) for 5 days, test for COVID-19 five days after exposure and to wear a well-fitting mask around others for 5 additional days. Those unable to quarantine must wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days.

The CDC has also updated its guidance for management of healthcare personnel with SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure in order to enhance protection for healthcare personnel, patients, and visitors, and ensure adequate staffing in healthcare facilities.

State Issues Updated Health Orders

On December 22, the State issued three health orders updating the vaccination requirement for health care workers and all employees in high-risk congregate settings, including nursing homes. According to the orders, all affected workers currently eligible for boosters must be “fully vaccinated and boosted” for COVID-19 by receiving all recommended doses of the primary series of vaccines and a vaccine booster dose by no later than February 1, 2022. The orders apply to workers in:

  • Adult Care Facilities and Direct Care
  • State and Local Correctional Facilities and Detention Centers
  • Health Care Facilities

Workers not yet eligible for boosters must be in compliance no later than 15 days after the recommended timeframe above for receiving the booster dose. In the interim, all health care staff that have not received their booster must test for COVID-19 twice weekly until they are up to date on their vaccines. Exemptions apply only for religious beliefs or qualifying medical reasons. Affected workers who received all recommended doses of a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization would be considered fully vaccinated and eligible for a single booster dose of Pfizer 6 months after getting all recommended doses.

FDA Authorizes COVID-19 Antiviral Treatments

On December 22-23, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorizations for two oral antivirals, Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir, to treat COVID-19 in certain adults and pediatric patients with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 testing, and who are high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. People should consult their healthcare provider, as both treatments are expected to be limited in supply, available by prescription only and should be initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of symptom onset.

For more information on COVID-19 information and resources, including case counts, vaccination and testing in Orange County, visit ochealthinfo.com/covid.

This article was released by the OC Health Care Agency.