Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations fell by more than a dozen patients Wednesday, while officials reported 355 new infections and four more fatalities.

The county’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped from 213 on Tuesday to 200, with the number of intensive care unit patients declining from 52 to 49.

County hospitals have 25% of their ICU beds and 70% of their ventilators available, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Tuesday that it was too early to tell if recent slight increases in hospitalizations earlier this week signaled the start of an expected winter wave.

“I think we’re in a good place, honestly,” Noymer said. “We were at 400 hospitalizations in August, so heading into the winter I’ll go with 200. I’m not going to get so panicky yet. … I’m still expecting another wave, but it’s too early to say if this increase is now the start of that wave or just noise.”

The county’s weekly COVID case rate per 100,000 residents, which is released on Tuesdays, improved from 6.6 to 6 this week, while the test positivity rate fell from 2.5% to 2.3%. The county’s Health Equity Quartile positivity rate — which measures progress in low-income communities — dropped from 2.5% to 2.3%.

Wednesday’s numbers brought the county’s cumulative totals to 304,054 cases and 5,588 fatalities since the pandemic began.

The four deaths reported Wednesday occurred this month, raising the death toll to 38 for October. September’s death toll stands at 165. The August death toll stands at 172.

In contrast, the death toll before the more contagious Delta variant-fueled surge was 29 in July, 19 for June, 26 for May, 46 for April, 200 for March, 615 for February, 1,585 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 977 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, Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy county health officer, said last week.

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

Noymer was pleased to see a Food and Drug Administration panel on Tuesday recommended the Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11, but he added it’s difficult to say if that will put a dent in cases.

“We honestly don’t know the role kids have in spreading the virus,” he said. “I’m all for vaccinating them, but it remains to be seen whether this will be a game changer.”

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