Orange County’s COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates have been inching down, but it may be the floor before an expected winter surge, the county’s deputy health officer told reporters Wednesday.

“It’s obviously plateaued,” Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said. “I think this may be our new floor… I’m hoping it will continue to decline, but with all the celebrations coming up and gatherings there is potential it will increase slightly, and there’s a potential for a surge in January.”

That echoes what Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Tuesday.

“We found a floor, and it’s around 200 cases in the hospital,” Noymer said. “I think it’s going to be awhile before it’s lower than that. I think it’s going to bounce around that and sometime during the winter it will bounce back up.”

He added that May or June “will be like last May and June and things will go down lower, but we will have bought and paid for that lower level with a lot of dead people over the winter.”

The number of COVID patients in county hospitals dropped from 187 on Tuesday to 179, with the number of intensive care unit patients dipping from 49 to 45, according to the latest state figures.

The county has 24.4% of its ICU beds available and 68% of its ventilators.

Also Wednesday, the county reported 180 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths related to the virus. That brought the cumulative totals to 311,397 cases and 5,675 deaths according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

One of the nine newly reported deaths occurred in January. One occurred this month, raising the death toll for November to 14. Four other fatalities occurred in October, raising the death toll for last month to 89. Three of the fatalities occurred in September, raising that month’s death toll to 175, just eclipsing August’s death toll of 174.

In contrast, the death toll before the more contagious Delta variant-fueled summer surge was 30 in July, 19 for June, 26 for May, 46 for April, 200 for March, 615 for February, 1,590 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 980 for December, the next-deadliest.

The county’s weekly COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 residents declined from 7.3 in the past two weeks to 6.9 on Tuesday, while the rate of people testing positive for the virus ticked down from 2.8% last week to 2.7%.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile positivity rate — which measures progress in low-income communities — inched up from 2.9% to 3%, the same as two weeks ago.

The county’s case rate per 100,000 for the fully vaccinated was at 2.6 as of Nov. 20, down from 3.2 as of Nov. 13, according to the latest data available. The case rate for the unvaccinated was at 13.8, down from 16.3, during the same time period.

As of Monday, 71% of the total population had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 64% were fully vaccinated, according to Chinsio-Kwong. For the population eligible for a vaccine, ages 5 and above, 75% have received at least one dose and 68% were fully vaccinated.

Among those 65 and older, 95% have received at least one dose and 88% are fully vaccinated.

In the newly eligible age group of 5 to 11, 13%, or 35,022 children, have received at least one dose.

“I think it’s reassuring,” Chinsio-Kwong said of vaccination rates. “But I think we can do a lot better, especially with the holidays around the corner. Our biggest risk is all of these small gatherings. I know people want to hug, laugh, eat and drink and usually when that happens in a closed environment people don’t have a mask on people might have COVID and not have symptoms and transmit it to others and not know about it until three to seven days later.”

Chinsio-Kwong advised testing for COVID-19 for those who travel or get together at parties.

The vaccination rate appears to have picked up this week as many children are out of school, Chinsio-Kwong said.

“So we did see a rise in vaccinations on Monday and then on Tuesday,” she said. “It’s reassuring we’re above 10,000 on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s upward of 19,000.”

The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County increased from 2,217,711 as of Thursday to 2,229,621 as of Wednesday.

That number includes an increase from 2,069,649 to 2,080,656 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 148,062 to 148,965.

There are 148,965 residents who have received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The top dispensers of COVID-19 vaccines as of Nov. 22, the latest figures available, are:

— The OCHCA, 25.2%;

— CVS, 19%;

— Walgreens, 6.3%;

— Kaiser Permanente, 5.1%;

— UCI Health, 2.7% and;

— Walmart, 2.07%.

— Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, 1.4%

— Families Together of Orange County nonprofit, 1.04%.

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