As Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations ticked up again, weekly averages showed a continued decline in infection rates, according to the latest data.

The county’s weekly COVID case rate per 100,000 residents, which are released on Tuesdays, improved from 7 to 6.6, while the testing-positivity rate fell from 2.7% to 2.5%. The county’s Health Equity Quartile positivity rate — which measures progress in low-income communities — dropped from 3% to 2.5%.

Hospitalizations increased from 175 on Monday to 185, with the number of intensive care unit patients declining from 34 to 32, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county had 26.2% of its ICU beds available and 71% of its ventilators.

Despite Tuesday’s increase, hospitalization numbers have been on a downward slide since late July.

“The numbers look really good,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Monday. “I am pleased to see hospitalizations below 200.

“Things are moving in the right direction in terms of everything. We’re in a good patch now,” he added. “This is the power of the vaccines. I can’t guarantee this will be permanent. Last year, the low point of transmission was around Halloween and then things got bad. But it’s true this year we have a vaccine and we’re not expecting a wave like last winter. … I don’t think we’re out of it yet.”

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy county health officer, said the number of children in intensive care at Children’s Hospital of Orange County dropped from six on Friday to none as of Monday.

The county also reported 162 new infections and logged three more deaths, raising the cumulative totals to 302,016 cases and 5,531 deaths since the pandemic began.

Of the deaths reported Tuesday, two occurred last month, raising September’s death toll to 145. October’s death toll remained at six. Another one occurred in August, raising the death toll for that month to 169.

In contrast, the death toll before the more contagious Delta variant-fueled surge was 28 in July, 19 for June, 26 for May, 46 for April, 199 for March, 615 for February, 1,585 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 976 for December, the next deadliest.

Most of those who died in September were unvaccinated. The same trend is true for those who are hospitalized, Chinsio-Kwong said.

Chinsio-Kwong again encouraged residents to get flu and COVID-19 shots, stressing it is safe to get both.

“Flu is around the corner — technically it’s already here,” she said. “It’s between October and May and we’ll see a spike in November.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials are projecting a “more severe flu season compared with last season,” because “many people were not exposed to the flu last season or did not get vaccinated. The last thing you want to do is deal with COVID as well as the flu.”

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