The number of COVID-19 infections in Orange County could be nearly eight times higher than previously thought, suggests a new antibody study.
While screening, a collaborative effort between UC Irvine and OC Health Care Agency, shows that the coronavirus may be much more widespread – though less fatal – than official figures indicate, researchers said more work was necessary to understand the level of antibody protection. provide and how to best address disparities in how the virus affects different populations.
The Latinx experience told
Receive the Latinx Files newsletter for stories that capture the multitudes within our communities.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
“Our study shows that, while a significant number of residents of CO were already exposed and have developed antibodies against COVID-19, a large part of the county still remains vulnerable to the virus”, Bernadette Boden-Albala, program director public health department, said in a statement. “For researchers, there is still a lot of work to do.”
From July 10 to August 16, nearly 3,000 residents of the county were tested for a series of anti-coronavirus antibodies, which are produced as part of the body’s natural immune response to a virus.
Among those screened, 11.5% had antibodies against COVID-19.
“There was this lurking suspicion that a large portion of the people who suffered from it did not know it,” Tim Bruckner, associate professor of public health at UCI, said in a statement. “Either they had symptoms and didn’t seek treatment, or they didn’t have symptoms and had no reason to go.”
As of August 16, when the study finished collecting samples, the county had an official coronavirus case count of 46,057.
This figure represents 1.44% of the county’s population of nearly 3.2 million. An infection rate of 11.5%, or nearly eight times that, would be equivalent to more than 367,000 cases.
A total of 59,442 people have been infected and 1,468 people have died from COVID-19 in Orange County to date.
Health officials and researchers have previously said the actual number of people infected with the coronavirus likely exceeds confirmed cases, as many people may not have been tested or need medical attention.
“I think that would just confirm our predictions that the transmission is in the community and that there are people walking around asymptomatic and, if they are not tested, we don’t know,” Dr Clayton Chau, county health official and director of the health care agency, said at a press conference Thursday. “This is why we encourage people to get tested, especially essential workers.”
The latest study also reflects the previously noted disparities regarding COVID-19 infection. The researchers said the highest prevalence of antibodies was found among Latino residents, 17%, and low-income residents, 15%.
Boden-Albala said the higher prevalence among Latinos “is consistent with some of the screening and hospitalization data from Orange County and the country” and that “as we look to the fall and the flu season, these data also warrant improved planning. and resources in communities likely to be the hardest hit. “
Hispanic and Latino residents account for about 48% of the confirmed cases of the Orange County coronavirus for which this demographic information is available, and 43% of the total number of deaths – even though they represent only 35% of the population of the region, according to Health Care Agency data.
Chau said the study’s results further illustrate that the county needs to focus on addressing health care disparities.
While these issues are not new and are not unique to Orange County, Chau said that “the pandemic really brings and has pushed the issue of health equity to the fore.”
While the proportion of Orange County residents with COVID-19 antibodies is significantly higher than previously estimated, the researchers said the study results do not mean the county is close to herd immunity – a term that refers to the point at which a sufficient population is sufficient. resistant to a disease that is unlikely to spread from person to person.
The researchers said this would require at least 70% of residents to have antibodies.
Although Orange County’s new COVID-19 case rate remains well below most of its southern California neighbors, Chau said to further stem the spread “everyone has to do their part in terms of non-medical public health measures ”- such as regular hand washing, wearing face covers in public and observing physical distances.
“We all work very hard; we are all trying to work together as a region to make sure the community doesn’t run into the problem of fatigue with masks, social distancing and everything, ”he said.
Gatherings are another area of concern, especially as the holiday season approaches.
“We know that as the holidays approach, the community will have a hard time adjusting not to come together, because that is what we are as Americans: we celebrate our holidays with our loved ones,” Chau said.
But health officials across the state have said that holding celebrations that involve many different households created an environment for the potential spread of the coronavirus.