Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and rates continued mostly positive trends, according to the latest data released Wednesday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The number of COVID-positive patients in Orange County hospitals dropped from 233 Monday to 217, while the number of those patients in intensive care ticked up from 35 to 37.

The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 11 Tuesday to 10.7. The testing positivity rate ticked up from 3.7% to 3.9%, and ticked up from 3.3% to 3.9% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The county also reported 385 new positive COVID tests and 11 additional deaths Wednesday, raising the cumulative totals to 539,236 and 6,628 respectively.

The county had 25.7% of its ICU beds available and 64% of its ventilators as of Wednesday. Local health officials become concerned when the level of ICU beds falls below 20%.

Of the deaths logged Wednesday, all occurred in February, raising February’s death toll to 155. January’s death toll stands at 487, and December’s death toll stands at 108.

Of those hospitalized, 84% are unvaccinated and 86% in an intensive care unit are not inoculated, according to the OCHCA.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the OCHCA, told reporters Tuesday that conditions have “improved dramatically.”

He said 10 children are hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, but none are in ICU.

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.

With mask requirements being relaxed in businesses and next week in public schools, Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director of the UC Irvine Family Health Center, cautioned against putting the face coverings away for good.

“If you’re not fully vaccinated you should be wearing a mask,” Mayorga told City News Service.

Mayorga noted the high level of fatalities during the Omicron surge compared with previous surges.

“I think there’s an extreme misconception that this is a milder variant, but if you look at simply the number of deaths compared to prior surges this is a significant higher number of deaths, but you have to correlate that with the higher number of cases and when you have more cases you have more deaths,” Mayorga said. “More people got it so subsequently more people succumbed to it.”

He encourages parents to ask school administrators what they are doing to prepare before masks become voluntary for students as of March 11. Mayorga encouraged school officials to open windows and doors to increase ventilation.

“Press the schools the please advise, what is your mitigation plan for any potential outbreaks and how are you keeping us safe in the classroom,” Mayorga said.

Mayorga is also concerned about long COVID symptoms for children and what impact they will have in the long run.

“Our long-COVID clinic here at UCI has seen younger aged folks coming in and seen in a clinic due to this Omicron surge versus prior ones, which is, again, very, very concerning because there’s no treatment for it and people should be genuinely concerned,” Mayorga said.

Mayorga is also concerned with the low level of vaccine uptake among children in the county.

“I think we need to do a better job of getting parents comfortable with getting this vaccine on board because we do know that having your child vaccinated is going to reduce risk of severe illness or hospitalization,” Mayorga said. “We need to do a better job of helping parents make a decision.”

Chau agreed.

“I would like to encourage our parents out there making decisions to really have a conversation with your pediatrician,” Chau said. “Learn more about the vaccines and children.”

More children were sickened by COVID-19 during the most recent surge than in previous ones, Chau said.

In the most recently eligible age group for vaccines, about 32% of 5 to 11 year olds are vaccinated, Chau said.

For seniors, “close to 100%” have received at least one dose of vaccine, Chau said, adding that “93% are fully vaccinated.”

Chau added, “We really need to educate our community that vaccines still work and vaccines are the only way out of the pandemic — period.”

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