Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations crept up again Wednesday, while the county also logged seven more fatalities.
Hospitalizations increased from 185 Tuesday to 190 Wednesday, with the number of intensive care unit patients increasing from 32 to 41, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The county had 25.8% of its ICU beds available and 72% of its ventilators as of Wednesday.
Hospitalizations have ticked up the past couple of days, following a steady downward slide since late last month.
“It’s definitely once again showing us it’s a seasonal virus,” Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director of the UCI Health Family Health Centers, told City News Service Wednesday. “We’re kind of in this lull in between summer right before the late fall and winter season.”
Like other experts, Mayorga said he expects a wave this winter, but it’s unknown how significant it will be.
“It won’t likely be as bad as last winter’s surge, but there’s still quite a few folks yet to be vaccinated, and our children under 12 don’t have that option,” Mayorga said.
Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Wednesday that he was concerned about the rise in hospitalizations.
“I’m not pleased to see hospitalizations at 190 after having been 175,” Noymer said. “Whether or not this is a little blip or something larger is too early to tell. The percentage positive is still looking pretty good, so that’s good. But people are in the hospital and that’s not good. But we’re still below 200 and that’s good enough for now.”
The county’s weekly COVID case rate per 100,000 residents, which is released on Tuesdays, improved from 7 to 6.6 this week, 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%.
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 219 new infections and logged seven more deaths Wednesday, raising the cumulative totals to 302,235 cases and 5,538 deaths since the pandemic began.
Of the deaths reported Wednesday, two occurred this month, raising the death toll for October to eight.
Four occurred in September, hiking the death toll last month to 149. Another one occurred in August, raising the death toll for that month to 170.
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, and 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.”
Mayorga said it is likely by the end of this week that the CDC will approve the mix-and-match process of administering vaccines, allowing recipients of one company’s vaccine to receive a booster from another company’s medicine. Studies have shown that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s potency is increased by 35 times with a Pfizer vaccine and 76 times by Moderna’s vaccine.
What’s unique is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is based on older technology similar to the flu shot, but the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines utilize the new mRNA technology. What’s not new, however, is the idea of mixing and matching different vaccines, Mayorga said.
“A great example of that has long been in existence with the flu vaccine,” Mayorga said. “The flu vaccine has set that precedence. Every year, no one really questions what flu vaccine they get. You get typically what the doctor’s office is offering. Mixing and matching is not something that is not unheard of.”
Mayorga said the human immune systems “are very, very intelligent and complex,” so the different approaches to combating coronavirus will enhance the ability to fend off infections.
The mixing-and-matching of the COVID-19 vaccines also demonstrates how safe they are, Mayorga said.
But he said it was more important to promote vaccines in general, not just boosters.
“We know the odds are that people who got vaccines are going to go out and get a booster,” he said. “But what we really want to see is people who have not gotten a vaccine to get their first series. It is absolutely proven that if you’re not vaccinated and you get sick you’re 11 times more at risk of dying. Why subject yourself to that?”
As of last Oct. 9, the county’s new case rate per 100,000 people was 3.1 among fully vaccinated residents and 14.6 for the unvaccinated.
The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County increased from 2,135,325 on Oct. 7 to 2,147,048 last Thursday.
That number includes an increase from 1,994,678 to 2,005,340 of residents who have received the two-dose regimen of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna. The number of residents receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine increased from 140,647 to 141,708.
There are 193,701 residents who have received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
The top providers of vaccines are the OCHCA at 26.4%, CVS at 18.4%, Walgreens at 6.2%, Kaiser Permanente at 5.4%, UC Irvine Health at 2.7%; Walmart at 1.9%, Safeway, Vons and Pavilions at 1.2%; Families Together of Orange County at 1.1%, and multiple others below 1%.