Hospital - Photo courtesy of Hush Naidoo Jade on Unsplash

Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped by one to 79, according to the latest state data.

The number of those patients in intensive care on Sunday remained at 14.

The last time the county’s COVID hospitalizations were this low was early July 2021, right before the Delta variant fueled last summer’s surge.

The latest numbers come one day after local health officials reported 179 new positive COVID tests and eight additional deaths related to the virus, bringing the county’s cumulative totals to 548,114 cases and 6,927 fatalities.

The majority of people who die of COVID complications have underlying conditions, mainly hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

The Orange County Health Care Agency does not report COVID data on weekends, and beginning Monday, the agency will scale back its release of virus data to Tuesdays and Fridays.

Of those hospitalized with the virus Saturday, 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 in the OCHCA’s latest numbers, with the positivity rates 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.

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 the OCHCA.

The BA.2 subvariant will likely fuel another surge, but the size of it is difficult to handicap, according to Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention.

BA.2 is 50% more contagious than Delta, Noymer said. But many 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.”

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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