Orange County’s number of COVID-19-positive hospital patients rose by 18 since Friday, but a UC Irvine epidemiologist called the situation at medical centers “steady.”

The number of patients in county hospitals increased from 1,144 on Friday to 1,162 as of Monday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency, which does not provide updates on Saturdays and Sundays. The number of intensive care unit patients increased from 188 Friday to 195.

The county had 21.3% of its ICU beds available as of Monday and 59% of its ventilators. County officials get concerned when ICU bed availability dips below 20%.

Of the COVID patients hospitalized, 85% are unvaccinated and the rate is 87% unvaccinated in ICU.

“I would characterize it as steady,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Monday. “I would like to see a 100 (patient) decrease, but I assume it will come.”

Noymer noted that “Omicron is full of surprises,” and he reiterated that the return of some students to classes later than others might make a difference. He pointed out that Rhode Island and Massachusetts were seeing “big declines” and then saw an uptick in cases.

The county reported 18,927 new positive COVID-19 tests Monday, reflecting three days of reports. That raised the cumulative total since the pandemic started to 496,054. The county logged 15 more fatalities, upping the cumulative death toll to 5,958.

Noymer said he expects fewer fatalities than during last winter’s or summer’s surges.

“Omicron is a milder beast, but we’re not getting off scott-free,” he said, adding that predictions are difficult to make.

“Omicron is less predictable than previous variants, which weren’t predictable in the first place,” Noymer said.

COVID-positive hospitalizations have not been this high since early February of last year, when there were 1,164 COVID-19 patients on Feb. 5.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service Friday that there were encouraging signs in the case rates.

Kim said that by looking at case episode dates, the peak was Jan. 3 or 4, when the average was about 10,000 cases daily.

“In the last week, we’ve been averaging 5,000 to 7,000 cases,” he said. “So we’re coming out of that early January peak … and here we are at Jan. 21 and the numbers are falling off.”

The county’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents dipped from 200 Thursday to 197.1 Friday. The testing positivity rate inched down from 27.4% to 26.5%, and edged down from 31.5% to 29.5% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic. The agency did not update the numbers on Monday.

Of the fatalities logged Monday, 10 occurred this month, raising the death toll so far in the new year to 32. Five of the deaths occurred last month, raising the death toll for December to 83.

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.

Two of the dead reported on Monday were skilled nursing facility residents, raising the overall cumulative in that category to 1,227. The death toll for assisted living facility residents stands at 648.

Outbreaks — defined as three or more infected residents — dropped from 42 elderly assisted living facilities last week to 37 as of Jan. 19, the most recent data available, and from 30 to 29 for skilled nursing facilities.

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