Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates continued mounting, with the county logging 19 additional fatalities, according to the latest data released by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 climbed from 249 on Tuesday to 258 on Wednesday and 277 as of Thursday, while the number of intensive care unit patients remained at 34.

Officials cannot determine how many of the patients currently hospitalized were admitted directly for COVID-19 or tested positive while being treated for another ailment.

But from June 1-29, there have been 118 unvaccinated patients admitted directly for COVID-19, while 24 were vaccinated, agency officials said.

County health officials said 83.3% of the patients are unvaccinated and 87.1% of ICU patients are unvaccinated.

The county has 23.3% of its ICU beds available, above the 20% level when officials become concerned.

The county’s testing positivity rate increased from 16.4% Wednesday to 17%, and ticked up from 16.4% to 17.4% in the health equity quartile, which measures the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The county’s daily case rate per 100,000 people is 34.2 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, and 33.3 for the adjusted rate, also with a seven-day average and seven-day lag.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service Friday, “It’s more of the same — drip, drip, drip in the wrong direction. We’re continuing to move in the wrong direction.”

Noymer added that the county hasn’t “found the peak yet. We’re in a new wave.”

Noymer advised residents to wear masks while indoors.

“The best time to start masking in low-stakes environments would be yesterday, and the next best time is right now,” he said. “And when I say low stakes I mean picking up milk at the grocery store. Picking up some orange juice at Albertsons is not worth the risk (of going unmasked).”

The county logged 4,583 more infections Tuesday through Thursday, raising the cumulative case count to 611,300. The 19 newly logged fatalities increased the overall death toll to 7,145.

A dozen of the fatalities occurred in June, raising last month’s death toll to 39. One occurred in May, increasing that month’s death toll to 33. One death happened in April, increasing that month’s death toll to 34. One death happened in February, increasing that month’s death toll to 343, and two happened in October.

The OCHCA provides regular COVID updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The case rate per 100,000 people for fully vaccinated residents who have received a vaccine booster went from 36.9 June 26 to 36.4 to July 3, the latest data available show. The case rate for residents fully vaccinated with no booster went from 22 to 21.4, and from 36.7 to 35.5 for residents not fully vaccinated.

The number of vaccines administered in Orange County increased from 2,326,588 to 2,328,630, according to data released Wednesday. That number includes an increase from 2,187,900 to 2,189,959 residents who have received the two-dose regimen of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna. The county has also logged 200,336 residents who received one of two shots of Pfizer or Moderna.

Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director of the UC Irvine Family Health Center, told City News Service that a National Cancer Institute study published Tuesday showed that COVID-19 is the leading cause of death among Americans ages 45-54.

“It’s very astounding,” Mayorga said. “But when you see that and then actually look at what the study also shows — a decrease in the ranking for those 85 and older. So, we know by the correlation that those age groups have different variations in vaccination rates. It’s screaming at us that vaccines are protecting everyone, especially our most frail.”

Authorities are expected to approve a booster designed to combat the Omicron variant soon, but anyone eligible for a booster now shouldn’t wait as they can also get the Omicron-variant dose later as well, Noymer said.

“I really want people to appreciate the value of getting up to date on vaccination,” Mayorga said. “Getting an additional one or two boosters has a huge impact. It will help reduce hospitalization and death rates if you’re up to date.”

For those who have avoided getting a booster shot because of side effects from the vaccines, Mayorga said, “A simple side effect is a lot better than dealing with hospitalization or loss of a loved one.”

The number of residents receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine decreased from 138,688 to 138,671 as officials continue to adjust to a new accounting of shots administered in the counties across California.

Booster shots increased from 1,335,414 to 1,340,385.

In the age group of 5-11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 92,483 to 92,842 versus 175,738 who have not been vaccinated.

The NCI study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the country from March 2020, when the pandemic began, to October 2021.

Heart disease was the top cause of death during that period with cancer in the second slot. In all age groups 15 and older, COVID-19 was a top-five killer during that period.

In an analysis of fatalities comparing March through December of 2020 and January through October 2021 the scientists found that COVID-19 went from a fourth leading cause of death among in the 45-54 age group to top cause of death in 2021. For those 85 and older, the virus went from the second leading cause of death in 2020 to third last year because seniors have been more widely vaccinated.

Mayorga said his clinic continues to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.

“I think what we try to do is have one-on-one conversations with parents about what are the ramifications of not getting vaccines,” Mayorga said.

For instance, if a child gets sick it will mean an adult in the family will have to stay home from work to care for the child and then that caregiver could also get infected, leading to more time away from the job, Mayorga said.

“And, potentially, there is a concern of them getting ill and ending up in a hospital,” Mayorga said. “And then there’s also the longterm impacts of COVID that can impact these children, too.”

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