The number of COVID-positive patients in Orange County hospitals has declined once again, falling from 286 to 252, according to the latest state figures.

Of those patients, 40 were in intensive care, down from 55 the previous day.

Some patients likely entered the hospital for other reasons and discovered they had COVID after a mandated test.

The latest numbers come two days after local health officials reported 405 new positive COVID tests and 26 additional deaths associated with the virus, bringing the county’s cumulative totals to 537,603 cases and 6,570 fatalities.

The county had 23.4% of its ICU beds available and 64% of its ventilators as of Friday. Local health officials become concerned when the level of ICU beds falls below 20%.

Of those hospitalized, 84% are unvaccinated and 86% in an intensive care unit are not inoculated, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The OCHCA does not report COVID data on weekends.

“We’re not all the way back free of Omicron,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service on Thursday. “But the case rates are under 20 and test positivity is below 5%, and the hospitalizations are dropping quite rapidly.”

Kim said the same drop was seen in South Africa, but he has asked his health officials about having a “fairly long tail” here.

“Will we have a longer tail where we never get down to pre-Omicron levels?” Kim wondered. “I don’t know. The good news is that we’re through the surge and the state is asking further action to reduce some of their health and safety measures, but I think we need to be cautious. I don’t want to be alarmist, but we don’t know what the future holds.”

Kim said it was important to keep the COVID-19 response ready for any future surges.

“We have to ensure there’s scalability quickly if we face another surge,” Kim said.

In another sign of improving conditions, the Orange County Board of Supervisors at its March 8 meeting will consider a recommendation promoting deputy county health officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong to county health officer, taking that responsibility off the plate of Dr. Clayton Chau, who has had to be director of the OCHCA and chief health officer through most of the pandemic.

Of the deaths logged Friday, four were skilled nursing facility residents and four were assisted living facility residents, raising the death tolls in those categories to 1,280 and 675 respectively.

Outbreaks — defined as three or more infected residents — decreased from nine to eight at assisted living facilities from last Friday through Wednesday, the most recent data available, and dropped from 12 to 10 for skilled nursing facilities.

The county’s jails had 35 infected inmates Friday, the same as Thursday, with the results of 173 tests pending.

The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 15.3 Thursday to 14.9 Friday. The testing positivity rate remained at 4.1%, and ticked up from 3% to 3.3% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 14.5 on Feb. 12 to 8.7 on Saturday for those fully vaccinated with a booster shot; from 17.4 to 10 for those fully vaccinated with no booster; and 30.1 to 17.9 for those not fully vaccinated.

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