The number of COVID-positive patients in Orange County hospitals jumped again, climbing close to levels not seen in about a year, but case and test positivity rates show signs of stabilizing, according to data released Wednesday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The number of hospitalized patients increased from 1,197 on Tuesday to 1,232, while the number of patients in intensive care rose from 199 to 207.

The county’s percentage of available ICU beds, however, improved from 16.5% to 19.4% Wednesday while the number of available ventilators remained at 62%. Health officials get concerned when the percentage of ICU beds 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. 18, when there were 215 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,” he 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.”

The county’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents dipped from 208.9 Tuesday to 205.5 Wednesday. The testing positivity rate remained at 27.9%, and inched down from 32% to 31.8% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The county reported 4,261 new positive COVID-19 tests Wednesday, raising the cumulative total since the pandemic started to 459,575. The county logged three more fatalities since last week, upping the cumulative death toll to 5,941.

Three of the dead reported on Tuesday 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 as of Friday, the most recent data available, 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.

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

There are enough hospital 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 Wednesday, three occurred this month, raising January’s death toll so far to a dozen. The other fatality occurred in November. December’s death toll stands at 76. November’s death toll stands at 104, 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 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 deputy county health officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong.

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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