a hospital patient in a hospital bed.
An example of a hospital patient, not one in the story. Photo from Pixabay.

Orange County’s number of COVID-positive hospital patients took a significant dive, and case and positivity rates are trending down, according to data released Tuesday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The number of COVID patients in county hospitals dropped from 1,162 as of Monday to 1,114, while the number of intensive care unit patients dipped from 195 to 191.

The county had 20% of its ICU beds available as of Tuesday and 58% of its ventilators. County officials get concerned when ICU bed availability dips below 20%.

Of those hospitalized — some of whom entered the hospital for other reasons — 85% are unvaccinated. The unvaccinated rate is 87% for the COVID patients in ICU.

“I would characterize it (the decline) 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 the Omicron variant 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 also reported 10 more fatalities related to COVID-19 on Tuesday and 2,864 new infections. That raised the cumulative total since the pandemic started to 498,918 cases and 5,978 deaths.

Noymer said he expects fewer fatalities than during last winter’s surge.

“Omicron is a milder beast, but we’re not getting off scot 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,” he said.

Of the fatalities logged Tuesday, eight occurred this month, raising the death toll so far in the new year to 40. One fatality occurred last month, raising the death toll for December to 84. Another happened in October.

November’s death toll stands at 104, October’s at 128, 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.

One of the dead reported Tuesday was a skilled nursing facility resident, raising the overall toll in that category to 1,228. The death toll for assisted living facility residents stands at 648.

Outbreaks — defined as three or more infected residents — increased from 37 to 44 at elderly assisted living facilities from Jan. 19 to Jan. 24, the most recent data available, and from 29 to 33 for skilled nursing facilities.

The county’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents dipped from 197.1 Friday to 182.4 as of Monday. The testing positivity rate inched down from 26.5% to 25.3%, and edged down from 29.5% to 29.2% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

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