Orange County logged two more COVID-19 fatalities for this month, matching the death toll for July and marking the first time deaths have seen a potential trend up since the winter surge, new data showed Wednesday.

Vaccinations have steeply driven down the death toll each month since records were set in December and January, but now it appears they may be trending back up due to the Delta variant, which has led to a surge in hospitalizations.

It is common for lengthy delays in the logging of COVID-19 fatalities. For instance, three more fatalities were logged Wednesday for January, the deadliest month by far in Orange County during the pandemic.

But one of the deaths logged Wednesday occurred on Aug. 10 and another happened on Aug. 2, according to statistics from the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The OCHCA reported six additional deaths Wednesday, boosting the overall death toll to 5,190. One of the six deaths logged on Wednesday occurred in April.

The death toll for August is now 16, the same as July’s. Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service that he does not believe the county will see a death toll on the levels of the winter surge again because of the vaccines.

Hospitalizations, which Noymer flags as the most important statistic, increased from 564 on Tuesday to 573 on Wednesday, but, he added, “That’s not a meaningful difference.”

The county’s number of intensive care unit patients decreased from 132 to 129 on Wednesday.

“Again, I’m watching hospitalizations the most closely and we’ve really plateaued,” Noymer said. “We’ve had seven days hovering around that 570 mark. So we’ve definitely found a peak so far … We’re not out of the woods yet, but I think it’s too early to see a surge associated with back to school.”

Noymer, however, said, “These things are super impossible to predict.” Experts predicted a post-Easter surge last year and didn’t see a wave until July of 2020, for instance, he said.

According to weekly averages released on Tuesdays, the county’s average daily case rate per 100,000 residents increased from 20.2 to 22.2, while the test positivity rate ticked down from 8.1% to 8%.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the impact on disadvantaged communities, remained at 8.4%.

Another 557 infections were reported Wednesday, raising the cumulative total to 282,166 since the pandemic began.

The county had 21.4% of its adult ICU beds and 69% of its ventilators available.

Many of the infections being logged are due to an increase in testing and many are among vaccinated residents so the symptoms are not leading to serious illness requiring hospitalization. Some are being caught as patients are admitted to hospitals for unrelated reasons.

The evidence of how students returning to school affect the infection rates may show up next week, Noymer said.

Noymer was hopeful that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine for anyone 16 and older will help increase vaccination rates.

“If anyone was waiting for the FDA to approve it they have that approval now for 16 and up,” Noymer said.

The vaccine is still being administered under emergency use authorization for ages 12 to 15.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the OCHCA, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the county’s vaccination rate was the highest among largest counties in the state.

For those eligible for a vaccine, 76.3% have received at least one dose, Chau said. Of the eligible population, 68% were considered fully vaccinated, which exceeds the state average, Chau said.

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