Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations ticked back up but remained below triple digits as infection also stayed about the same, according to data released Friday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county’s number of COVID patients increased from 89 on Wednesday to 96 Thursday, while the number of those patients in intensive care declined from 16 to 14. ICU levels have not been this low since the first week of July.

The hospitalization levels were at the level where it was at the beginning of the week.

“I’m liking what I’m seeing — 96 in the hospital. I haven’t seen numbers that low in a long time,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service.

On Friday, the OCHCA reported 159 new infections and two more fatalities associated with the virus, both of which occurred in February.

The county’s cumulative totals rose to 547,126 cases and 6,886 deaths since the pandemic began.

The death toll stands at 38 and rose to 302 in February.

The death toll in January stands at 540, December stands at 112, 116 in November, 137 in October, 204 in September, and 187 in August.

Of those hospitalized with the virus, 84% are unvaccinated and 86% percent of those in intensive care were not inoculated, according to the OCHCA.

The county’s case rate per 100,000 people ticked up from 3.3 to 3.4. The testing positivity rate remained at 1.8% overall and in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic, the OCHCA said.

Noymer said the highly contagious BA.2 Omicron subvariant could drive another surge.

“BA.2 is on the way, so buckle your seat belts,” Noymer said.

Scientists monitoring wastewater have seen “some upticks and that’s a leading indicator, so I wouldn’t put my feet up quite yet,” he said.

Noymer encouraged residents who are eligible for a fourth vaccine shot to get one. Those who are immunocompromised and those 50 and older are recommended to get a fourth shot.

“Senior citizens should be looking to get their fourth dose as long as their third one was at least four months ago,” Noymer said.

Noymer was disappointed in the level of booster shot uptake in the county.

Booster shots increased from 1,228,846 last week to 1,234,473 this week.

“The (Centers for Disease Control) definition of fully vaccinated is two shots, but Andrew Noymer’s definition is three, so only one-third of the county is fully vaccinated, and, according to me, that’s too low,” Noymer said.

The case rate per 100,000 people for fully vaccinated residents who received a booster shot increased from 3.2 on March 19 to 3.8 on March 26, according to data released Thursday. For those fully vaccinated without a booster shot the rate went from 2.5 to 2.8. And for those not fully vaccinated the rate went from 4.2 to 4.1.

The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County rose from 2,446,410 last week to 2,448,788 this week, according to data released Wednesday. That number includes an increase from 2,290,047 to 2,292,327 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 156,363 to 156,461.

In the most recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 85,376 to 86,022, versus 182,588, who have not been vaccinated. It’s the least vaccinated age group in Orange County.

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

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