The number of COVID-positive patients in Orange County hospitals declined slightly Tuesday, but the number of those patients in intensive care increased.

There are 1,197 people with the coronavirus in county hospitals, down from 1,202 on Monday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. But the number of COVID patients in the ICU was 199, up from 188 the previous day.

The county’s percentage of available ICU beds has dropped to 16.5% and the percentage of available ventilators has fallen to 62%. Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health officer, has said that officials grow concerned when the percentage of ICU beds available drops below 20%.

Of those hospitalized, 86% are unvaccinated, and 87% of the ICU patients are not inoculated.

Hospitalizations have not been this high since Feb. 4 when there were 1,233 COVID-19 patients in the county. The last time ICU levels were this high for the virus was Feb. 19, when there were 219 ICU patients.

“The health care system is really, really overtaxed,” Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the OCHCA, said at a news conference Tuesday.

There were 15 COVID-19 patients at Children’s Hospital of Orange County with 14 in the ICU, Chau said.

Chau pleaded with residents to avoid emergency rooms as a resource for COVID-19 tests.

“Please, there are various ways to get tested, so please, do not show up to the emergency room to get tested,” Chau said.

Staffing at health care facilities is down due to workers being “either tired or infected,” Chau said, adding that there are some indicators that “we’re beginning a stabilization stage and drop off.”

Charts of infections and recoveries elsewhere in the world show that, “Once Omicron drops off it drops off really rapidly, so that’s good news,” Chau said.

The county reported 24,639 new positive COVID-19 tests Tuesday over the past four days, raising the cumulative total since the pandemic started to 455,314. The county logged 17 more fatalities since last week, upping the cumulative death toll to 5,938.

The agency does not report COVID data on weekends and did not update its data Monday due to the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

Three of the dead were skilled nursing facility residents, raising the death toll to 1,225 in that category. The death toll for assisted living facility residents stands at 647.

The county has COVID-19 outbreaks at 42 elderly assisted living facilities and 30 skilled nursing facilities, according to the OCHCA. An outbreak is defined as three or more infected residents.

County officials are coordinating staffing assistance and COVID-19 tests at the assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, Chau said.

The tests help residents and staff assess risk so operators can keep visiting hours open, Chau said.

“It’s not good for their mental health” to not be able to visit with relatives, he added.

Hospital levels are not as perilous as last winter’s surge, Chau said.

“But I know my colleagues across this region — we’re sitting on pins and needles and praying our ICU capacity” is enough, Chau said.

There are enough beds available for patients, but it’s uncertain whether there are enough nurses and doctors to staff them. That’s why state officials are allowing some infected health care workers to report to work if they are asymptomatic and are working with infected patients, as hospitals have run out of options, Chau said.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Doug Chaffee implored residents to get vaccinated. He pointed out the vast majority of COVID patients are unvaccinated.

“That’s stressing the whole system,” Chaffee said. “People who have other medical needs won’t get the care they need because the hospital is filled with unvaccinated patients. If we work together we’ll win this COVID battle and make 2022 a successful and prosperous year.”

Of the deaths logged Tuesday, six occurred in January, boosting this month’s death toll to 10. Eleven of the fatalities occurred last month, raising December’s death toll to 76.

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.

The county’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents ballooned from 108 Friday to 208.9 Tuesday. The testing positivity rate inched up from 27.5% to 27.9%, and increased from 31% to 32% 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 reached 2,357,761, according to data released last Thursday. That number includes an increase from 2,189,337 the previous 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.

Chinsio-Kwong warned residents away from large-indoor gatherings for Lunar New Year, which occurs on Feb. 1.

“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.”

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