Hospital - Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates have jumped, leading one local epidemiologist to predict a new wave of the virus.

The county’s COVID-related hospitalizations jumped up from 74 on Monday to 97 as of Thursday, the most recent data available, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency, which provides updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The number of intensive care unit patients with COVID-19 increased from 13 to 17.

The county has 31% of its ICU beds available, well above the 20% level when officials become concerned.

Of those hospitalized, 83.2% are unvaccinated, and that rate is at 86.3% in intensive care units.

“There’s another wave starting, I’m quite confident of it,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service Friday.

“I said if we got 100 patients and up that would be significant and 200 and up would be a full-blown wave, and we’re at almost 100,” Noymer said. “We’re building toward a new wave. We’re very close to a significant increase in COVID. But no one can say what the high-water mark of that wave will be.”

Easter gatherings likely didn’t help, but Noymer said there are many causes to surges now.

“We’ve got these new variants working around” that are more contagious, Noymer said. “Part of what we’re seeing here is there’s a new variant and getting vaccinated doesn’t prevent infection and getting (infected) doesn’t prevent infection, so what does prevent infection? Wearing a mask helps and getting lucky … I don’t think you can just say this is Easter. With a virus this contagious, it’s just society being society is what causes this.”

Noymer said he “highly recommends” wearing a mask to stores and indoor events as well as outdoor events with large crowds.

The daily case rate per 100,000 people in Orange County increased from 8.4 Tuesday to 9.7 Friday on a seven-day average with seven-day lag, and from 5.5 to 6.1 for the adjusted rate with a seven-day average and seven-day lag.

The testing positivity rate went from 2.7% to 3% overall and from 1.2% to 1.3% in the health equity quartile which measures the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Those statistics can be deceiving, Noymer said.

“With testing so far down and people doing at-home tests, hospitalizations is some of the only data we have,” Noymer said.

The county logged 1,381 more infections from Monday, raising the cumulative case count to 555,610. Two new fatalities increased the death toll to 7,011.

The fatalities occurred in April and March. That raised the death toll for last month to 25 so far.

March’s death toll increased to 85, February’s death toll stands at 327, and at 554 in January and 115 in December.

The case rate per 100,000 for fully vaccinated residents who have received a vaccine booster decreased from 9.1 on April 22 to 8.3 on April 29.

The case rate for fully vaccinated residents with no booster increased from 4.9 to 5.1, and the case rate for residents not fully vaccinated decreased from 8.5 to 8, according to data released Tuesday.

The number of vaccines administered in Orange County increased from 2,301,942 last week to 2,304,729 this week, according to Tuesday’s data.

That number includes an increase from 2,161,026 to 2,164,061 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 decreased from 140,916 to 140,668 as officials continue to adjust to a new accounting of shots administered in the counties across the state.

Booster shots increased from 1,274,022 last week to 1,280,690.

In the most recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 89,318 to 89,800, versus 178,780 who have not been vaccinated. It’s the least-vaccinated age group in Orange County.

“The urgency is gone, the message from the government isn’t `Vaccinate, vaccinate’ anymore,” Noymer said.

Vaccines are still the best way to protect against severe illness and hospitalization, Noymer said.

“If we’re talking about protection from infection at all, they’re clearly waning,” Noymer said. “But with protection from severe infection, they have staying power.

“The devil is in the details in terms of you can still get a bad cold, but it will be COVID if you’re vaccinated, and the bad news is you can still spread it. But are you likely to be on a ventilator in a hospital? That’s much less. Vaccines are still holding their ground, but not for transmission.”

The Omicron subvariants are “in the ballpark” of contagiousness as measles, Noymer said.

Noymer said he was “very disappointed” the mRNA vaccines have not been upgraded to tackle the subvariants.

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