Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continued inching upward, and eight more virus-related deaths, most of which occurred in March, were logged, according to the latest data released by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Hospitalizations increased from 78 Wednesday to 84 Thursday, with the number of intensive care patients increasing from 16 to 20. The last time hospitalizations related to the virus were this low was July 8, right before the Delta variant fueled last summer’s surge, which later rolled into the Omicron surge this winter.

Of those hospitalized with the virus, 84.1% are unvaccinated while 86.4% of those in intensive care are unvaccinated, according to the OCHCA. The county has 29.7% of its ICU beds available, comfortably above the 20% when experts get concerned.

The case rate per 100,000 people ticked down from 3.5 to 3.4, with the positivity rates also staying at 1.9% overall — but up from 1.9% to 2% in the health equity quartile, which reflects those in needy communities hardest hit by the virus, according to the OCHCA.

The case rate per 100,000 people for fully vaccinated residents who received a booster shot increased from 3.7 on March 26 to 4.5 on April 2, the most recent figures available. For residents who were fully vaccinated without a booster, the rate decreased from 2.8 on March 26 to 2.6 on April 2. And for those not fully vaccinated, the rate went up from 4.1 on March 26 to 4.3 on April 2.

About 4,000 more people received vaccines since last week, according to OCHCA.

There were 179 new infections diagnosed, raising the cumulative to 547,935 since the pandemic began. Eight more fatalities were logged, increasing the cumulative to 6,927.

Six of the fatalities occurred in March, with the most recent one on March 31. Those increased last month’s death toll to 55.

One fatality occurred in February, increasing that month’s death toll to 310, and another happened in January, raising that month’s death toll to 545.

“I didn’t like that jump from 69 to 84,” in hospitalizations this week, said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention. “But the numbers still look good.”

The BA.2 subvariant will likely fuel another surge, but the size of it is difficult to handicap, Noymer said.

“We’re going to have a BA.2 wave, but I can’t give you a prediction how bad it’s going to be,” Noymer said.

The BA.2 subvariant is 50% more contagious than Delta, Noymer said. But many of the unvaccinated people tend to be younger and more able to shrug off an infection, Noymer said.

“Very few of the seniors in Orange County are totally unvaccinated, so I’m not expecting a huge wave of mortality with BA.2,” Noymer said. “I’m not expecting a big wave of hospitalizations in the next four weeks either.”

The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County rose from 2,448,788 last week to 2,452,863 this week, according to data released Wednesday.

That number includes an increase from 2,292,327 to 2,296,678 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 stands at 156,185.

Booster shots increased from 1,234,473 last week to 1,244,133 this week.

In the most recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 86,022 to 86,893, versus 181,687 who have not been vaccinated. It’s the least vaccinated age group in Orange County.

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s chief health officer, said Tuesday that 37% of children 5 to 11 have gotten at least one dose and 32% are fully vaccinated. In the 12-17 age group, 72% have gotten at least one dose and 66.7% are fully vaccinated. Among those 65 and older, 99% have gotten at least one dose and 92.6% are fully vaccinated.

“We still need a lot of help to get younger children vaccinated,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “We encourage parents to talk to their pediatrician and healthcare providers to consider vaccination.”

Chinsio-Kwong said that while children are at lower risk of contracting severe illness, many are not wearing masks at school anymore and are “engaging in high-risk activities.”

Even though the federal government will no longer provide free tests and vaccines, the county will continue to do so at its sites for the time being, Chinsio-Kwong said.

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