COVID-19 hospitalizations in Orange County increased slightly Saturday, rising from 193 on Friday to 198, with 51 of those patients in intensive care, an increase of two from the previous day, according to the latest state figures.

The numbers come one day after the county reported 325 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths, bringing its cumulative totals to 304,693 cases and 5,595 fatalities since the pandemic began.

County hospitals have 24.4% of their ICU beds and 70% of their ventilators available, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The OCHCA does not update its cases or deaths on weekends.

The county’s case rate per 100,000 residents was 6.2 on Friday, compared to 6.3 last week, according to Deputy County Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong.

The hospitalization numbers being reported reflect patients who are primarily being treated for COVID-19, Chinsio-Kwong said. Before, many of those listed as COVID-19 patients just happened to have the virus but were in the hospital for some other reason and subjected to mandatory testing.

“My understanding is now the cases that we’re reporting are people hospitalized for COVID reasons,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

The county’s exit from the Delta variant-fueled summer surge has been gradual, unlike previous surges, but experts do not know exactly why.

“We do know across California our state is open,” she said. “We do realize that people are getting tired of wearing masks and there’s waning immunity… and still many are not vaccinated. We expect the case rates will remain the same or increase.”

An increase in testing could also be a factor in the rate of infections, she said. “I think it’s a combination of things,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

The increase in testing could be attributed to physicians being advised to test for the flu and COVID-19 since there’s not much difference in the symptoms other than the loss of taste or smell for those afflicted with coronavirus, Chinsio-Kwong said.

The case rate among the unvaccinated has seen a marked increase, and a slight increase among the unvaccinated has also been detected, according to the OCHCA.

The case rate per 100,000 unvaccinated residents was 14 on Oct. 16, but increased to 15.7 as of Oct. 23, the latest data available. For fully vaccinated residents it was 2.8 on Oct. 16, but 3.4 per 100,000 residents by Oct. 23.

Chinsio-Kwong, who is also a mother, made a passionate plea to parents to talk to their pediatricians about getting their children vaccinated when COVID-19 shots for kids ages 5 to 11 are approved, which is expected next week.

“I get it that some parents are going to want to wait,” she said Friday. “But a lot of physicians (who are parents) are going to be first in line because we’ve seen the data. … I know I’m going to be first in line to get my child vaccinated. This is a very safe vaccine.”

Chinsio-Kwong noted that the careful review of the vaccine’s safety is why federal regulatory authorities have taken so long to approve the shot dosages for kids aged 5 to 11.

The threat of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a COVID-related malady that can develop in youngsters infected with the virus, is “very scary,” the doctor said.

“We do know with COVID that some studies are showing that kids who have had COVID have higher rates of depression and anxiety or have more difficulty concentrating in school and have headaches,” she said. “And we really don’t know how long that it affects that child — if it goes into adulthood. I’d rather take the risk of any side effect of a vaccine over any of my kids getting COVID.”

Orange County officials are confident that health care providers and pharmacies can handle demand for child vaccines, Chinsio-Kwong said.

“We have a lot of providers to give that vaccine,” she said, adding there are about 50 pediatric practices authorized for inoculations of COVID-19 vaccines as well as more than 100 pharmacies.

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