Orange County Wednesday sprinted past a grim milestone of 6,000 COVID-19 deaths, while hospitalizations and other data indicated this winter’s Omicron variant-fueled surge is slowing.

The county logged 28 more fatalities Wednesday, with all but one occurring this month. The other fatality occurred on Christmas Day.

“We should expect that the death curve is going to fill in,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Wednesday. “The January (death toll) is going to look an awful lot like the August (death toll) before it’s all said and done,” Noymer said.

“… Omicron is less severe, but you can’t have hospitalizations in the thousands … without some deaths,” he added.

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health officer, told reporters on a media call Wednesday that Omicron has ignited the largest wave yet in cases, and that can account for the spike in deaths.

“You have to realize the sheer number of COVID cases with this surge is so much higher than any other surge we’ve experienced,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “It’s possible we may see the same number of deaths as in the fall, but proportionate to the number of cases that should be much lower than previous surges.”

The number of COVID patients in county hospitals dropped from 1,114 Tuesday to 1,086, while the number of intensive care unit patients fell from 191 to 179.

The county had 19.6% of its ICU beds available as of Wednesday and 59% of its ventilators. County officials get concerned when ICU bed availability dips below 20%.

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

“The numbers of hospitalizations are starting to trend down and the message is things are looking good,” Noymer said.

The county reported 2,592 more infections, raising the cumulative total since the pandemic started to 501,510.

“Unfortunately, we have hit milestones” in cases and deaths with more than 500,000 infections and 6,000 fatalities, Chinsio-Kwong said.

With the Lunar New Year, Super Bowl and this Sunday’s NFC championship game in Inglewood looming, Chinsio-Kwong warned residents to be careful and get vaccinated or boosted if they haven’t already. She also advised they should opt for a well-fitted mask and celebrate outdoors if possible.

January’s death toll now stands at 67 and December’s death toll at 85.

Chinsio-Kwong said of January’s deaths, 43 were not vaccinated, five were vaccinated and received a booster and 19 got two shots but no booster. Of those inoculated who died, the majority were “older in age,” she said.

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.

Two of the dead reported Wednesday were skilled nursing facility residents, raising the overall toll in that category to 1,230. Another was an assisted living facility resident, raising the death toll in that category to 649.

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 182.4 Monday to 174.4 Wednesday. The testing positivity rate inched down from 25.3% to 24.6%, and edged down from 29.2% to 28.6% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Chinsio-Kwong said county officials have seen a slowing in vaccinations of late, “but we’re still seeing some strides.” Of those who were inoculated, 44% have gotten a booster shot in the county, which is above the national average of 40%, she said.

The county is 69% fully vaccinated, and 73% vaccinated among eligible residents, Chinsio-Kwong said.

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