Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Orange County have reached levels not seen since March, and the county’s latest numbers show nearly 2,000 new infections since last week.

The 1,996 cases reported on Monday upped the cumulative to 266,167.

Hospitalizations increased from 252 on Friday to 322 on Monday, with the number of intensive care unit patients jumping up from 59 to 68. The county has 24.5% of its intensive care unit beds available and 76% of its ventilators.

The last time the county had this many COVID-19 hospitalized patients it was March 5; ICU numbers have not been this high since mid-March.

Two more fatalities were logged on Monday, increasing the total death toll to 5,143 since the pandemic began.

The death toll for July is 4; 15 for June; 22 for May; 43 for April; 199 for March; 612 for February; 1,563 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 968 for December, the next deadliest.

The case rate per 100,000 has zoomed up to 12.2 with testing positivity increasing to 6.9% overall and 6.6% in the health equity quartile, which measures the pandemic’s impact in disadvantaged communities. Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the difference in the positivity rate reflects a surge among residents in the coastal cities.

“A lot of the new infections are happening in communities that are not historically part of the lower health equity communities,” Kim told City News Service.

If the county were still in the state’s old blueprint for reopening the economy it would be in the purple tier, the most restrictive.

Last Tuesday, the county’s average daily case rate per 100,000 residents increased from 4.9 to 8 in a one-week period, and the test positivity rate jumped from 3.3 to 4.9%.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the disadvantaged communities hardest hit by the pandemic, increased from 3.4% to 4.4%.

The state releases the weekly averages on Tuesdays.

Testing has also risen notably as well, Kim said. The county is averaging 227 tests per 100,000, Kim said.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said the surging hospitalizations are worrisome.

“We’re seeing daily increases in cases and hospitalizations, and that’s concerning,” Noymer told City News Service. “Last summer’s peak was in the 600s, but we’re rocketing up now. Last summer was more of a slow build-up and now it looks like we’re really shooting up. I am worried about that. If we’re over 400 hospitalizations by the end of the week that’s concerning to me.”

Hospitalizations are the most important metric to watch, Noymer said.

“It’s actually a big deal,” he said, noting that the ICU numbers “presage mortality.”

Vaccinations have been picking up nationally. The number of people in Orange County who have received at least one dose of vaccine stands at 1,965,282 as of July 26, according to the state’s database.

As of Thursday, the county HCA reported that 1,897,664 in Orange County are fully vaccinated. The county has 1,773,927 fully vaccinated residents who have received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which require two shots. The county has 123,737 who have received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“It’s certainly above the national average,” Noymer said of Orange County’s level of vaccination. “It’s not bad. Obviously, I’d like to see it higher. Let’s just hope it keeps going higher.”

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