Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and case rates continued a downward trend Monday, but January’s death toll has eclipsed the worst months of last summer’s surge, according to Orange County Health Care Agency data.

The county reported 28 more COVID-19-related fatalities since Friday, with 24 of them occurring last month. That hiked January’s death toll to 200. The last time the county had a month reach that high a number was March of last year, with 202 fatalities that month.

The level of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals fell from 746 on Friday to 620 on Monday, with the number of patients in intensive care declining from 134 to 123 over the past three days. The county does not provide updates on data Saturdays and Sundays.

The county had 20.1% of its ICU beds available and 59.5% of its ventilators as of Monday. Local health officials get concerned when the level of ICU beds falls below 20%.

Of those hospitalized, 84% are unvaccinated and 87% in ICU are not inoculated, the OCHCA said.

The county also reported 2,845 more infections Monday, raising the cumulative to 527,071 since the pandemic began.

“The key numbers keep going down, which is good,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Friday. “… Things are moving in the right direction partly because these things have a natural cycle and we’re on the downward cycle of it. It’s also partly because people took it seriously and masked up, and continuing that is still on the menu … Masking is still prudent.”

Noymer said he does not expect Super Bowl parties will trigger another reversal of the trends.

Outbreaks — defined as three or more infected residents — decreased from 38 to 36 at assisted living facilities Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, the most recent data available, and dropped from 30 to 24 for skilled nursing facilities.

The county’s jails have 137 infected inmates and the results of 121 tests are pending.

The county’s adjusted daily new case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 87.4 on Friday to 65.9 on Monday. The testing positivity rate dropped from 14.1% to 11.8% and fell from 12.1% to 10.2% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 72.6 Jan. 22 to 38.5 on Jan. 29 for residents who were fully vaccinated with a booster shot; from 134.8 to 62 for fully vaccinated with no booster; and 207.2 to 92.9 for those not fully vaccinated.

The county reported 28 more COVID-related fatalities Monday, hiking the cumulative death toll to 6,180 since the pandemic began. The other fatalities occurred in December, August and June.

The most recent recorded fatality occurred on Jan. 27. Four days of last month have not yet logged any fatalities.

Noymer said Friday it was likely January’s death toll would surge past the worst of the Delta wave in August and September.

“We’ll probably have about 300 when all is said and done,”’ Noymer said. “I don’t expect January deaths to stop coming in until March 1.”

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health officer, agreed in a call with reporters on Wednesday.

“There’s a good possibility of that,” Chinsio-Kwong said when asked if January’s death toll may exceed the worst of the summer surge. “Just because of the significant amount of positive cases over the last couple of weeks. The current variants may be milder, so even if the percentage may be lower, the sheer number of cases will be the same amount of deaths if not more than Delta. Proportionally, we expect it to be less, but the gross number will be the same or a little bit higher.”

Of the fatalities that occurred in December and January “the majority of folks who are dying during that period were older. We do have a couple of younger aged folks who did pass away and the majority of them are still unvaccinated.”

Jan. 11 has been the deadliest day so far last month with 14 fatalities. That tops the deadliest day during the summer surge by one, and the last time fatalities on one day approached that level was early March of last year. The deadliest day so far during the pandemic was Jan. 2, 2021, when 71 people succumbed to COVID-related causes.

December’s death toll rose by one to 103. November’s death toll stands at 112 and 135 in October.

September’s death toll stands at 198 and August’s death toll increased by two to 184.

In contrast, the death toll before the Delta variant fueled a late-summer surge was 31 in July, 20 in June, 26 in May, 47 in April, 202 in March and 620 for February. January 2021 remains the deadliest month of the pandemic, with a death toll of 1,598, ahead of December 2020, the next-deadliest with 985 people lost to the virus.

Of the fatalities logged on Monday, one was a skilled nursing facility resident, raising the cumulative in that category to 1,241. Three others were assisted living facility residents, increasing the number of fatalities in that category to 655.

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