Orange County is continuing to hold the line in the rates of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations following the Thanksgiving weekend, according to recently released data.
The county reported 1,226 infections since Wednesday, raising the cumulative case count to 312,623, and logged 35 additional fatalities, though several dated back to last December and January. The cumulative death toll now stands at 5,710.
The number of hospitalized patients ticked up from 179 on Wednesday to 181 as of Monday, with the number of intensive care patients declining from 45 to 43. The Orange County Health Care Agency did not update statistics from Thursday through Sunday.
The county had 24.4% of its ICU beds available and 69% of its ventilators, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
“The numbers are stable, kind of more of the same,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Monday.
It’s not clear if there will be an impact from the Thanksgiving holiday, Noymer said.
“I’m worried there will be a surge this winter, but it’s very hard to pin them on certain holidays,” Noymer said.
There have been times in the past when experts expected a holiday surge, but it never developed, Noymer said.
As for the new Omicron variant, Noymer said it is “too early to tell” what effect it may have.
“I know they’re concerned about it evading vaccine but we just don’t know,” he said. “I’m a little nervous they’re shutting off travel, which gives the impression they know more than they’re letting on. But I honestly feel that we don’t know very much.”
Noymer said it appeared there were “some gaps in surveillance and sequencing” the new variant, so, “we don’t see the precursors to Omicron. We see that Omicron has arrived on the scene and is very different, but we don’t see its precursors. We need to step up sequencing so we don’t get blindsided again.”
The Omicron variant has now been detected in Canada after first cropping up in Africa and then in Europe.
Canadian health officials said Sunday that two cases of the variant were detected in Ontario.
“California is closely monitoring the new Omicron variant, which has not yet arrived in California or the U.S.,” state Public Health Director Tomós Aragón said Sunday.
“Vaccines continue to be our best way through the pandemic by safely protecting us against severe illness from COVID-19 and its variants. We are doubling down on our vaccination and booster efforts to ensure that all Californians have access to safe, effective and free vaccines that can prevent serious illness and death.”
Orange County’s deputy health officer told reporters on Wednesday that although COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates have generally been inching down, it may be the floor before an expected winter surge.
“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.”
Of the fatalities logged on Monday, five occurred this month, raising November’s death toll to 19. Ten others happened in October, raising last month’s death toll to 99.
A dozen of the fatalities occurred in September, raising that month’s death toll to 187, and two happened in August, hiking that month’s death toll to 176.
Three of the fatalities occurred in January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, with a death toll now at 1,593. One of the fatalities was in December, the next deadliest month at 981. One happened in July.
In contrast, the death toll before the more contagious Delta variant-fueled summer surge was 31 in July, 19 for June, 26 for May, 46 for April, 200 for March, 615 for February.
The county’s weekly COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 residents declined from 7.3 in the previous two weeks to 6.9 on Tuesday, while the rate of people testing positive for the virus ticked down from 2.8% the previous 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 last 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 last 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.”