Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations jumped up again after a one-day stabilization, according to data released Friday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The patient load in the county’s hospitals has been building day to day from 188 on Dec. 20 to 215 on Dec. 21.

Hospitalizations inched up from 1,071 on Wednesday to 1,072 on Thursday, but then rose to 1,154 on Friday, with the number of intensive care patients increasing from 168 to 171, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county also logged 8,257 new positive COVID-19 tests Friday, increasing the total since the pandemic began to 430,675.

The county has 19.6% of its ICU beds available and 63% of its ventilators. Of those hospitalized, 86% are unvaccinated and 87% in the ICU are not inoculated, according to OCHCA.

“Hospitals are full,” Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health officer, told reporters on a weekly media call Friday.

However, local hospital officials have not been complaining as much of late about a crush of residents besieging emergency rooms and urgent care facilities for COVID-19 tests after officials urged residents to avoid the heavily taxed system unless they have serious symptoms, Chinsio-Kwong said.

About one-third of patients coming to the county’s emergency rooms are specifically complaining of COVID-19, Chinsio-Kwong said.

The issue of parsing direct cases of COVID-19 and “incidental cases” of patients with other maladies who test positive is “even more complex than first imagined,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

Some patients admitted for non-COVID-19-related illnesses sometimes have their symptoms exacerbated by the virus, she said.

Hospitalizations are higher than during the summer Delta variant-fueled surge, but half of the peak during last winter’s surge before widespread dissemination of vaccines.

The county’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents inched up from 103.4 on Thursday to 108 Friday. The testing positivity rate inched up from 26.8% to 27.5%, and increased from 29.8% to 31% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

“We have to be realistic,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “We’re all going to be exposed to Omicron at some point… so it’s important to take precautions.”

The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County increased from 2,341,562 last week to 2,357,761, according to data released Thursday.

That number includes an increase from 2,189,337 last week to 2,205,067 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 152,225 to 152,694. Booster shots increased from 900,815 to 975,937.

In the relatively recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 46,791 to 52,803 versus 215,777 who have not gotten jabbed. It’s the least vaccinated age group in Orange County. The next-worst vaccinated age group is 25 to 34, with 314,619 inoculated and 144,782 who have not gotten a shot.

In the 5-to-11 age group, 28% have received at least one dose, according to Chinsio-Kwong.

For parents still worried about side-effects of vaccines for their children, Chinsio-Kwong pointed to recent study showing that two doses of Pfizer “significantly reduced (multi-inflammatory syndrome following a COVID-19 infection) by 91% versus those not vaccinated.”

Another study showed that children are 2 1/2 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes following a COVID-19 infection if unvaccinated, she said.

The most vaccinated age group is seniors at 92%, Chinsio-Kwong said.

The seven-day case rate per 100,000 for residents who have received half or no doses of vaccines increased from 212.9 as of Jan. 1 to 290.1 on Jan 8, the latest data available.

The case rate for the fully vaccinated without a booster shot increased from 189.2 to 220.4, and the case rate for the fully vaccinated with a booster went up from 72.2 to 91.9.

Chinsio-Kwong warned residents away from large-indoor gatherings for Lunar New Year.

“If you choose to gather it should be small and as much as possible try to have it outdoors and with people more up to date on vaccines,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

“If you’re going to eat with others then maintain a distance when not wearing a mask… I wouldn’t encourage people from different households gathering indoors.”

The Orange County Jails’ number of infected inmates increased from 178 Thursday to 202 on Friday with the number of newly booked inmates infected increasing from 44 to 46.

Of the 3,325 inmates 52.6% have received a vaccine, according to OC HCA. Of the jail population, 126 have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine, 998 have gotten both doses, 415 received a two-dose regimen and booster, 166 received Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine, and 440 have received Johnson & Johnson and a booster and 1,734 have received at least one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine.

The county logged five more COVID-related deaths on Friday, including the first for 2022. One occurred in December.

The death toll for the new year stands at four.

The death toll for December is 65. Chinsio-Kwong said last Friday 50 of those who died in December were unvaccinated and seven were seniors.

November’s death toll stands at 103, October’s at 127, September’s at 196 and August’s at 182.

In contrast, the death toll before the Delta variant fueled a summer surge was 31 in July, 19 in June, 26 in May, 47 in April, 202 in March and 620 for February.

January 2021 remains the deadliest month of the pandemic, with a death toll of 1,598, ahead of December 2020, the next deadliest with 985 people lost to the virus.

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