Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are nearing 1,000 as healthcare providers struggle to provide staffing, according to data released Monday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Hospitalizations jumped up from 779 on Friday to 964 on Monday, with the number of intensive care unit patients rising from 122 to 140, according to the OC HCA, which doesn’t provide updates on the weekends.

“I did talk to a large hospital system CEO this morning, and they indicated things weren’t as bad as prior waves,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.

But the hospital executive said there were concerns with “staffing shortages,” Kim said.

Many healthcare workers are getting infected or having to isolate due to an exposure, Kim said.

Fountain Valley Hospital recently brought on 25 nurses to help out, using funding from the state, Kim said. There have been requests for 100 more nurses from six local hospitals in recent days, according to Kim.

The county logged 22,945 new cases over the past three days, increasing the cumulative total since the pandemic began to 397,805.

“You can look at the data in two different ways,” Kim said. “We continue to see increases in daily positivity and case numbers, but that is also a function of increased testing. I also think that’s underreported because so many individuals have access to rapid testing (at home).”

With the at-home testing, a request is made to use a QR code to add results to the database, but Kim said, “I suspect it’s very little” in terms of participation.

There was some good news to be found in a decrease in patient drop-off times via ambulance. Last Thursday, the ambulance drop-off times were at 52 minutes and 36 seconds, but that was down to 40 minutes and 57 seconds as of Monday, according to Kim.

The CEO has recommended to the county Board of Supervisors that county employees be given 40 more hours of sick leave so they will be encouraged to stay home when under the weather. The board will consider the recommendation at Tuesday’s meeting.

About 600 county employees, out of a total of about 17,000, have been infected since mid-December, Kim said. When an employee gets infected, they’re out a minimum of five days given the need for quarantine. That can eat up all of a workers’ sick leave so that they might be more inclined to show up for work with mild symptoms in the future, Kim said.

“Our hospitals are full,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health officer, during a weekly media call Friday.

The last time hospitalizations reached Monday’s level was Feb. 10, during a post-holiday winter surge of infections.

Exactly one year ago — on Jan. 10, 2021 — hospitalizations were at 2,221, just as vaccines were being rolled out for front-line medical staff and first responders.

The county logged two more fatalities on Monday, one on New Year’s Eve and the other one at the end of November. Kim said there were nine fatalities on Sunday, but those have not yet been confirmed and logged.

All of the three deaths logged Friday occurred in December. The death toll for last month is now 59. Chinsio-Kwong said 50 of those who died in December were unvaccinated and the rest were seniors.

Orange County had 21.3% of its intensive care unit patient beds available and 65% of its ventilators available as of Friday.

Chinsio-Kwong said officials get “nervous” when the ICU bed availability drops below 20%. Of the hospitalized patients, 87% are unvaccinated, and 88% of the ICU patients are not inoculated.

The county’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents jumped from 64 Thursday to 71.8 Monday. The testing positivity rate soared up from 19.1% to 21.5%, and it increased from 19.3% to 22.3% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The seven-day average for tests per 100,000 increased from 561.2 Thursday to 603.9 on Monday.

On Thursday, officials reported a child younger than 5 had died from the disease, the county’s third pediatric death of the pandemic.

“We must continue to be mindful of protecting children,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “I’m sad to see only 26% have started the vaccination process. I’m hoping more parents will choose to get their children vaccinated.”

It’s not certain whether the child had been infected with the Delta or Omicron variant, Chinsio-Kwong said. But she said the Omicron variant is having more of an effect on children than previous variants, and she expects pediatric cases to rise locally, mirroring a national trend.

The wave of infections is also affecting entertainment and courthouse functions.

In Orange County’s jails, the number of infected inmates rose from 66 on Monday to 103 as of Friday, according to Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Of those, 25 were newly booked inmates and the rest were in the general population.

Of the department’s 3,800 employees, 214 were infected, Braun said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday unveiled a proposed $2.7 billion COVID-19 emergency response package as part of his next budget proposal, including a $1.4 billion emergency appropriation request to bolster testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers, strengthen the health care system and “battle misinformation.”

On Friday, Newsom announced the activation the California National Guard to help provide additional testing facilities and capacity amid the national surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant.

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