Empty hospital example. Photo via Pixabay.

Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates remained steady as the county logged 26 more fatalities, according to the latest data released by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Hospital patient numbers increased from 133 on Tuesday to 137 Wednesday, according to the data released Thursday. The number of intensive care unit patients ticked down 29 to 27.

The case rate per 100,000 people declined from 5.3 to 4.9, according to the OCHCA. The testing positivity rate remained at 2.4%, and fell from 2.9% to 2.7% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

“Our numbers are now down,” Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s health officer, told reporters Tuesday. “We continue to see deaths rise. … Even though this seems like a benign illness it is not. Many are still passing away from COVID.”

Chinsio-Kwong encouraged residents to continue wearing a mask indoors if they live with someone who is immunocompromised or if they have children not yet eligible for vaccination. The requirement for students to wear face coverings on campus has been lifted, but Chinsio-Kwong still “strongly recommended” it.

“With different variants around, we still encourage the use of masking,” she said.

She noted there are “some other nations where cases are rising.”

The county had 30.1% of its ICU beds available and 69% of its ventilators as of Thursday. Local health officials become concerned when the level of ICU beds falls below 20%.

Of those hospitalized, approximately 84% are unvaccinated and 86% of those being treated in the ICU are not inoculated, according to the OCHCA.

The county logged 311 new positive cases on Thursday, raising the cumulative total to 544,113 and the 26 more fatalities, boosting the overall death toll to 6,820.

Of the fatalities logged Thursday, five happened this month, increasing March’s death toll to 15. Another 15 happened last month, increasing February’s death toll to 282. And another five happened in January, increasing that month’s death toll to 530.

December’s death toll stands at 108, November’s at 115, October’s at 136, September’s at 201 and August’s at 186.

January 2021 was the deadliest month of the pandemic, with a death toll of 1,600, ahead of December 2020, the next-deadliest with 986 people lost to the virus.

The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 4.9 March 5 to 3.2 March 12 for those fully vaccinated with a booster shot; from 4.8 to 3 for those fully vaccinated with no booster; and 8.3 to 5.5 or those not fully vaccinated.

The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County rose from 2,441,941 last week to 2,443,437, according to data released Thursday. That number includes an increase from 2,285,767 to 2,287,201 of residents who have received the two-dose regimen of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.

The number of residents receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine increased from 156,174 to 156,236. Booster shots increased from 1,217,204 to 1,222,416.

In the most recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 82,166 to 83,724, versus 184,856 who have not been vaccinated. It’s the least vaccinated age group in Orange County. The next-least vaccinated eligible age group is 25 to 34, with 323,383 inoculated and 136,013 who have not received a shot.

The age group that has received the most booster shots is 55 to 64.

In the 5-11 age group, inoculations lag all others as 84,517 kids that age have been vaccinated and 184,063 have not gotten jabbed.

Chinsio-Kwong urged parents of younger children to consult with their pediatrician or family physician for advice.

“We really urge you to contact your health care provider or pediatrician to get your questions answered and get vaccinated, especially now since mask requirements are being lifted,” Chinsio-Kwong said.

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