Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations remained relatively stable as seven more fatalities were logged, according to data released Thursday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county recorded 316 new infections Thursday, raising the cumulative case number from throughout the pandemic to 318,382 and the death toll to 5,846.

Hospitalizations ticked down from 206 Wednesday to 201, with the number of patients in intensive care dropping from 64 to 58.

The county has 22.9% of its ICU beds available and 68% of its ventilators. Of those hospitalized, 87% are unvaccinated and 89% in ICU are unvaccinated.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service that most of the COVID-19 indicators are tracking down slightly.

As of last Thursday, the county’s case rate per 100,000 was 7.6 and then increased to 9.8 as of Sunday, but was down to 9.2 as of Wednesday, Kim said.

“So that’s four days in a row that it’s kind of declining, even though it’s slight,” Kim said.

The positivity rate has hovered between 3.2% to 3.4% this week, he said.

Also, testing has gone up about 40%, Kim said.

“That’s generally positive and hopefully we won’t see a spike,” Kim said.

The case rate per 100,000 as of Saturday, the most recent data available, was 24.3, down from 24.9 a week earlier. In contrast, the case rate among the vaccinated was 3.7, down from 4.7 during the same time period.

The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County increased from 2,270,828 last week to 2,295,286.

That number includes an increase from 2,121,094 to 2,144,648 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 149,734 to 150,638.

The number of vaccine booster shots stands at 681,959.

Health officials are speculating that the pandemic could move toward endemicity within the next six months, Kim said.

“You’re going to have periods of small spikes and periods where the numbers go back down, but this is the new way of the world dealing with COVID, at least for the next year most people think,” Kim said.

Travis Ranch School sixth graders were sent home and learning via Zoom this week after a breakout of “dozens of cases,” according to the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District.

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the deputy county health officer, said the outbreak was similar to others nationally.

“Most of the people were not vaccinated or partially vaccinated,” Chinsio-Kwong told reporters. “It would have helped if more people at the school were vaccinated.”

Orange County Health Care Agency officials were still investigating what happened, but, “What we do know is there was potentially one adult who was not vaccinated and symptomatic” on campus, Chinsio-Kwong said.

“And many of the kids in the classroom were not vaccinated,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

To play it safe, the district decided to opt for virtual education for the week, she said.

“Maybe it is helpful that we’re going into the winter break,” she said.

Of those in the newly eligible 5-to-11 age group, 18% have received at least one dose of vaccine in the county, Chinsio-Kwong said. Among the 12-to-17 age group the number stands at 70%, she said.

There are “at least 200,000” children 5 to 11 who still need to begin the vaccination process, Chinsio-Kwong said. And about 70,000 in the 12 to 17 age group still need to start getting vaccinated, she added.

“That’s still a significant portion of kids who need to get vaccinated,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

Coastal Kids Pediatrics regional medical director Dr. Steven Abelowitz agreed, “18% is way too low,” but he said it appears more parents are growing more comfortable with the idea of vaccinating their children.

Nationally it appears that one-third of parents want to get their children inoculated, another third is on the fence and one-third are against it. Abelowitz said some parents have left Coastal Kids because of his advocacy for the vaccines.

“We were actually seeing a lot of reluctance in the beginning, mostly because of misinformation out there,” Abelowitz said. “But I am seeing a slightly positive trend for two reasons.”

One of those reasons is parents are not seeing adverse reactions in the children who have been inoculated. Coastal Kids has administered a few thousand doses with no reports of significant adverse reactions, he said.

“One of the big fears out there is the potential correlation with myocarditis,” he said.

There were reports of about one in 10,000 cases in older children, mostly males, but that is considered very rare, the doctor said.

“We’re not seeing that so far” with the 5 to 11 age group that was mostly recently approved for shots, Abelowitz said.

Besides the risk of heart damage is significantly higher with COVID-19 than it is with an adverse reaction to the vaccine, Abelowitz said.

“Across the board we’re encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated purely because the benefits outweigh the risks,” Abelowitz said.

Chinsio-Kwong said the newly discovered COVID variant, Omicron, is two to three times more contagious than the Delta variant, guaranteeing high odds of infection.

“Don’t wait,” Chinsio-Kwong advised parents. “Omicron is out there. Please get ahead of it. Please get in line and get your vaccine today.”

No one should wait for a vaccine engineered for the Omicron variant, because that may take months to get through the approval process, she said.

“Right now, our best chance is again, if you’re eligible get fully vaccinated, and if you’re eligible, get your booster. And if you’re immunocompromised, please be careful,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

With the new state mandate to wear masks in indoor public spaces, Chinsio-Kwong said it was important for residents to make sure they wear a face covering with three layers and to wear it properly with a tight fit over the mouth and nose.

“The question I keep hearing from the public is what does `public’ mean,” she said. “Public is everywhere outside your private residence.”

Chinsio-Kwong also prescribed eating more healthy foods and avoiding stress and anxiety as well as checking up on family, friends and neighbors.

“We need to take care of ourselves, but we also need to take care of our community,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

Sheriff Don Barnes issued this statement regarding enforcement of the state’s mask mandate.

“Consistent with our previous approach, wearing a face covering is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement. With limited exceptions, not wearing a face covering is a violation of the public health order, but it is not a practical application of a criminal law violation.

“As we have previously, deputies will request voluntary compliance and will take an education-first approach with the public regarding the statewide face-covering requirement. I expect that Orange County residents will continue to use common sense and responsibly wear a face covering as required by the state.”

Of the fatalities logged Thursday, three happened this month, raising the death toll to seven. Three occurred last month, raising November’s death toll to 95. One dates back to February.

The death toll stands at 125 for October, 195 for September and 182 for August.

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, 202 for March and 620 for February.

January 2021 remains the deadliest month of the pandemic with a death toll of 1,596, ahead of December 2020, the next deadliest at 985.

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