Orange County saw a significant jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations Friday, and fatalities this month also continued to climb with five more deaths logged, including two in the 25-to-34 age range.
Experts says deaths should skew toward the younger ages, because the vaccination rate is so high among the county’s seniors.
Four of the fatalities logged on Friday occurred this month, the most recent one happening Aug. 18 and two more on Aug. 17. One of the deaths occurred at the end of last month. The overall death toll stands at 5,202.
Vaccinations have steeply driven down the death toll each month since records were set in December and January, but it now appears they are trending back up due to the more contagious Delta variant.
One of the deaths logged Thursday was in the 25-to-34 age group, and two more were added on Friday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. The total in that age group for the entire pandemic stands at 62.
“We’re going to see more deaths in that age group because they think they’re invincible and don’t vaccinate, so that doesn’t really surprise me,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Thursday.
“To get those deaths to go down, we need to get to better than 2 million” vaccinated, Noymer said. “We won’t see January 2021 death rates again. That ship has sailed, thank God. Good riddance. But we’re not done seeing mortality.”
Despite the increase in fatalities, the monthly death toll is notably lower than during the spring.
“The July and August deaths are still quite modest,” Noymer said.
The death toll for August is now 27, higher than July’s 17. This marks the first time since the winter surge that there has been a month-to-month increase in fatalities.
The death toll for June is 15; 23 for May; 44 for April; 199 for March; 615 for February; 1,574 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 969 for December, the next-deadliest.
Hospitalizations, which Noymer flags as the most important statistic, jumped up from 565 on Thursday to 592 on Friday, with the number of intensive care unit patients rising from 122 to 132.
Up until Friday’s bump up, hospitalizations were steady this week.
“It remains to be seen how long the numbers stay down because of back-to-school,” Noymer said Thursday.
The OCHCA also released updated vaccination numbers on Thursday, showing a number approaching 2 million residents inoculated.
The county has 1,989,131 fully vaccinated residents. That includes 1,857,185 who received the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines and 131,946 who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
The case rate per 100,000 residents as of Aug. 21 was 35.9 for unvaccinated residents, but 6.5 for the fully vaccinated.
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 930 infections were reported Friday, raising the cumulative total to 283,573 since the pandemic began.
The county had 20.2% of its adult ICU beds and 69% of its ventilators available.
Health experts note that 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.
He said he 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 the largest counties in the state.
Among 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, he said.